U.S. Army Leadership FM 6-22 (FM 22-100)

Are we promoting them too young?

Over the past three months I’ve attended countless professional development seminars, symposiums, socials and a handful of conferences at which someone invariably states that we’re promoting our young enlisted to the rank of Sergeant entirely too early in their career.

So my question is: are we really’

What many, who make the aforementioned statement, lack is perspective born of sufficient tenure in this organization (The Army) to reflect back on the state of our institution in the mid 1970’s.

Having enlisted in 1976 and having been promoted to the rank of Sergeant nearly two years to the day I enlisted, many an old Soldier in my day also stated that we were promoting our young enlisted at an all too early age in their career.

Well, 30 years after pinning the rank of Sergeant on my collar most would say that I’m an acceptable example of a Noncommissioned Officer.

Then, as now, the Army was confronted with many of the same realities we wrestle with each day; an Army that was/is growing in numbers and in organizational structure and one where an increasing number of young Americans are being assessed into our military.

Add to this reality the demands on our force; two combatant theaters of operations, a litany of other world-wide obligations, a force that has endured multiple deployments, and one can see why we must commit ourselves to recognizing those with the potential to lead and promote to positions of increased responsibility at an earlier (by some standards) age.

Now, the similarities previously mentioned aside there is one glaring difference, as it relates to the point at which I was promoted to Sergeant and those that have the responsibilities of leadership thrust upon them today; 13 years of relative peace.

I have vivid memories of “being told” when I would attend my first NCOES course PNCOC (WLC). I also remember being foolish enough to tell my Platoon Sergeant “I was too busy” to go to school.

I also remember the First Sergeant dragging me out from under my jeep (yup Jeep; M151A2 to be exact), him poking me in the chest and stating “what part of you’re going to school do you not understand”. That was the last time I told a noncommissioned officer I wasn’t going to do something.

I can recall countless occasions where I was acting on my preconceived notion of what I thought leadership was only to be drug to the side by a more sage NCO (Sergeant and above) and told (in no uncertain terms) that I was as screwed up as a football bat. Yup, over the 13 years of relative peace that followed my promotion to sergeant I was quite literally “taken to school.”

So all the above having been said why are there some (many in all honesty) that say we’re promoting at all too early an age’

We’re an Army at war. We’re an Army with units being deployed and redeployed at a rate previously unheralded in our history. We’re an Army that is not, in all honesty, as introspective (at the most junior levels) as it once was, as it once had an opportunity to be.

Over the thirteen years following my promotion, the Army refined the Noncommissioned Officer Education System and those that comprised our mid grade and senior enlisted ranks were more consumed by/focused on that which defined the guts of our formations; the junior enlisted and development of the same. Peace is a wonderful thing, but it’s purchased on the sacrifice(s) of those that preceded us.

Those that will follow us someday will reap the reward of our sacrifice(s). In the meantime we have a professional obligation and a moral imperative to do all we can, officer and NCO alike, to coach, mentor, counsel; inspire and encourage, give freely of our time (on and off duty) to those who aspire to take the helm of this great institution.

I’ve been witness to much in my over three decades of military service. What I revel in today is the potential and capacity resident in our young troopers. Are all deserving of or capable of wearing the chevrons of a Sergeant, of leading America’s youth in battle; short answer is no.

Are the vast majority of those that aspire to move up the enlisted leadership ladder equal to the task at hand’ Short answer is YES!

What they need is someone to hold the darn ladder for them. Our youth are every bit the overachievers that we were/ought still be. They aspire to live up to the proud legacy of our Army and the expectations of the leaders that inspire them.

What they need is us (NCO and officer alike) to selflessly and consistently guide them, to encourage them. They don’t need to be led by the hand, they want to be challenged, they want to be held to a superlative standard, they want to be taught how to do it right and be held to doing it right the first time.

By the way, they’re tired of having their time wasted by needlessly revisiting an issue because we failed to hold them properly accountable or provide them the specific guidance they required the first time.

Are there exceptions to what I’ve just mentioned’ Of course, but they are just that; the exception!!

Got a problem with the relative young age of our newest NCOs; got a problem with the limited intrapersonal skills, problem solving abilities and lack of institutional values, character traits or moral courage they possess/exhibit’

Well then either deny their promotion ( as defined in current Army policy) or stop complaining about them and do something about it. Give them the most precious gift you possess; your time and give it to them until it hurts.

Those that raised us did so. It’s our turn to set our youngest leaders on the course that will eventually poster them to be The Army’s next senior leaders.

Too young’ Nah; it just means we have more of “their time” to make them even better than we are.

Phantom Warriors. America’s Hammer!

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