Friday, June 03, 2005


An NCO Induction

We held a Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) Induction a few weeks back, and it occurred to me there were some aspects of this ceremony that my non-military audience might appreciate. I had never experienced one prior to joining my current unit, and we’ve now had two, one at our Mobilization Site, and now here in Iraq. We set aside this ceremony as a time for NCOs to gather, recognize, and place a solemn charge upon our newly promoted NCOs, usually of the Rank of Sergeant (grade E5), but at times for a Corporal (grade E4). More on ranks and grades later.

NCO Inductions have been used for some years now as a kind of fraternal (in the benevolent order but not the collegial, gender specific sense) welcoming ceremony. It is intended to reinforce Army and NCO values, and build a special ‘espirit de corps’ among this special segment of the Army, the NCO Corps.

Which I think also bears some explaining.

A quick explanation of enlisted ranks versus officer ranks for those for whom this stuff doesn’t really make sense.

Enlisted, Officers, and NCOs

NCO: Non-commissioned officer. In the military, there are officers, enlisted, and warrant officers. NCOs are the leaders among the enlisted soldiers, and they pretty much take care of everybody and make sure everybody does what they're supposed to. They train, can order enlisted soldiers to perform duties and such, and they often advise officers and commanders who are wise to take their advice.

When you join the military, you start by "enlisting," which is to voluntarily join. You can stay enlisted, or you can elect to go for officer training, which then prepares you to be an officer (Lieutenant, Captain, Colonel, General, etc.) Officers are senior in rank to all enlisted soldiers.

As you rise through the enlisted ranks from private to Specialist to eventually Sergeant, you take on responsibilities. Once you are an NCO (which starts at Sergeant E-5 or sometimes a Corporal E-4), that implies you have leadership responsibility for other enlisted soldiers, especially for their training. There is a Sergeant, then Staff Sergeant, then Sergeant First Class, then Master Sergeant or First Sergeant (that's me), and then Sergeant Major.

A First Sergeant (1SG) is the senior NCO for a Company of soldiers (40-200 depending on the unit, we have 140 with about 17 officers). A Company is normally commanded by a Captain. From Company, up through Battalion (BN) (several Companies), then Brigade (several Battalions), then Division (several Brigades), at each level there is a Commanding Officer and a companion Senior NCO. At Company level, that's a 1SG. For BN and above, that's a Command Sergeant Major or CSM.

Officers like to say that NCOs are the "backbone of the Army," and that's because we are the trainers, we lead troops, we get everyone going where they are supposed to, we discipline and correct them. (We often do our own jobs and a lot of the officers' jobs too, truth to tell.)

In the old days, officers were the educated elites, gentlemen of property and breeding. Enlistees were your average working men and laborers, with some specialty trades. Over the years, that's changed dramatically. Officers must complete levels of college education to join and advance, enlisted don't have to but are often as well or better educated than most officers. Generally, if enlisted soldiers have college, they were often college educated before they joined, while some officers get theirs done while in service. (To advance beyond Captain they need an advanced degree, and some get them from correspondence or online or other military friendly institutions.) This is true of some enlisted too, but I have found that many college graduates (and even Masters and PhDs) will enlist for some end goal, job training, experience, even a start at a career. Officers often come in with a BA or BS degree and then advance from there.

But officers start out with a pay advantage that gets bigger and bigger as they go along.

Back to the Induction

Our Induction Ceremony was very formal, and centered around a declaration of Values, Army Values, specifically, which revolve around duty, honesty, integrity, and selfless service. The actual Army Values are typically expressed in about 6 or 7 major values (beliefs or leader characteristics), explained in short paragraphs that are meant to underscore what the Army expects from all its soldiers.

The Induction began with the entrance of the Official Party, consisting of the host, our Battalion (BN) CSM, accompanied a Guest CSM, and our two 1SGs, myself and the C Company 1SG. We opened with an Invocation, which I was invited to deliver, as I have been working with the Chaplain, and no officers were invited to this affair (not even the Chaplain):
Almighty God,

We come to You with thanksgiving tonight, as we assemble to usher into the Noble Corps of Non-Commissioned Officers these seven dedicated leaders. We thank You for their willingness to serve, and we thank You for your divine protection.

Father, we ask that you would be that Rock, that Fortress for these new leaders. Fortify and strengthen them, teach them to be both Your strong hand and caring eye for the soldiers they will lead. Help them honor their oaths, to selflessly serve their Soldiers.

Bless this ceremony tonight, God, and challenge all of the NCOs so assembled, to lift these new leaders up and make them worthy of their charge.

You have called us all to serve, and by Your Grace we do. Amen.
This was followed by an explanation of what an NCO Induction represents, and tied this to What it Means to be an NCO and a presentation of the Army Values. The Guest CSM spoke, as did our BN CSM. A portion of the ceremony consisted of “A Soldier’s Request,” in which invited lower enlisted Soldiers each took a turn stepping up to one of the new NCOs and speaking a request, such as to make sure they are cared for and fed, or treated with respect, or kept informed, or to be led wisely.

Throughout the presentations, attendees and inducted NCOs were constantly reminded of the history and traditions of the NCO Corps, and the sacred charge that is placed on every NCO to reinforce an Army ethic and uphold our NCO Creed, which begins:
No one is more professional than I. I am a Noncommissioned Officer, a leader of Soldiers. As a Noncommissioned Officer, I realize I am a member of a time honored Corps, which is known as “The Backbone of the Army.”
As part of our ceremony, we had each new NCO recite a portion of that Creed. Together, they all spoke its conclusion:
I will not compromise my integrity, nor my moral courage. I will not forget, nor will I allow my comrades to forget that we are professionals, Noncommissioned Officers, leaders!
There is not much that I have ever seen to get a tough old CSM get tears in his eyes – short of losing a Soldier – but trust me that if you ever want to see one tear up, catch him in the middle of something like this.

At the pinnacle of the ceremony, we had the new NCOs all line up, and in a single movement step across a line as one, signifying their change in status from enlisted Soldiers to NCOs.

With our Benediction, we concluded the ceremony:
Almighty God, You have commanded that we be strong and of good courage, to not be afraid or dismayed. We can trust in You, oh Lord, to be with us wherever we go, from this place and this day forward. Amen.
Some Closing Thoughts

I know there are some who would cynically dismiss such pageantry as dog and pony shows or hollow rhetoric. And it’s true, some of the Joes and Janes roll their eyes when we go through classes or they have to read through (or sit through) explanations or speeches about Army Values. But you know what? Even the most cynical or jaded Soldiers present at our Induction walked out of that Theater that evening just a little different than they walked in. Somehow a little taller, more confident, with a spring in their step, and with a quiet resolve to try a little harder to live up to those ideals.

And when I see them in action? I know that they do, they do, they do.

UPDATE: Served up warm with extras at Basil's Blog.

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