The Evolution of Military Leadership Basing on the Management of Junior Officers
Junior officers play a crucial role in the military, a role that is increasingly becoming complex. The complexity of their roles is manifested in the enhanced communication capabilities, dispersed operations, highly decentralized command, and the uncertain operating environment. Also, the U.S. Army training doctrine is now focusing on the new role of Non-commissioned officers (NCOs) as the master trainers whose primary responsibility is to plan and execute individual and small-unit training. While the empowerment of junior enlisted non-commissioned officers is prominent in the army now, this form of leadership was not highly recognized few decades ago. The empowerment of junior enlisted non-commissioned officers has transitioned these young leaders to successful soldiers in war and peace time.
Initially, the U.S. Army employed the policy of rotating soldiers overseas and back and the soldiers who were not willing to reenlist were transferred and replaced by the willing ones from different units (Rush, 2009). Consequently, the soldiers took longer before making corporal due to lack of vacancies. When units were sent overseas, other soldiers, mostly recruits, were appointed to serve as corporals but with less experience. By 1907, an average NCO was ignorant of his duties and lacked the quality necessary for discipline and efficiency (Rush, 2009). Furthermore, the enlisted members were all discharged upon return from overseas and the NCO’s rank belonged to the regiment. Therefore, enlisted officers left the organization as privates. This trend exacerbated the performance of the units. Officers lost confidence in the ability of the NCO’s to train soldiers and were forced to assume the responsibility (Rush, 2009). However, this did not help since commanders lacked knowledgeable, committed sergeants and corporals, which in turn impeded success.
In 1917 during the World War I, the U.S. Army went to the battlefield unprepared. The soldiers had inadequate organizational skills, manpower, and materiel (Rush, 2009). The peacetime activities in the aftermath of World War I was characterized by strict fiscal restraints, massive cuts in the U.S. Army strength, and large overhead of redundant officers and NCOs, which instigated turbulence in the organization (Rush, 2009). To address this problem, General Pershing recommended clear definition of the duties and responsibilities of NCOs. However, while this was strictly adhered to, the force still performed poorly. They went to the 1941 war unprepared due to the draft or voluntary enlistment forms of enrolment and many were trained within the units. Consequently, NCOs had little training experience, which forced officers to train soldiers while NCOs watched. This move attracted a fair share of criticism including Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall who called for the termination of the practice.
The U.S. Army was forced to consider ways of improving the performance of NCOs as their counterparts like France, Germany, Britain, Bulgaria, Austria-Hungary, Russia, and Romania (Rush, 2009). Maj. Gen. Silas Casey advocated for separate training of the NCOs, emphasizing the need for them to learn to give commands in battlefields. While this call was given a casual shrug, the army later established a division model battalion in Venezuela Giulia where student NCO candidates were taught discipline and essential skills. Continuing on the mission to reinforce the importance of NCOs’ duties, the Constabulary School, Germany was launched, with the first class of 129 officers and 403 enlisted NCOs (Rush, 2009). Such specialized training had also been championed for by Bruce C. Clarke, who was instrumental in the establishment of formal doctrine to standardize NCO training. The NCO Education System (NCOES) was later developed and maintained until the mid-1980s when promotion started relying on education grades (Rush, 2009). Today, NCOES has been expanded to include talent management, development, and stewardship.
The special focus on the empowerment of NCOs and junior officers has delivered tremendous benefits to the forces. For instance, after the Vietnam War, the U.S. Army has achieved a series of successful combat operations including Operation Just Cause, Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation Urgent Fury (Bissel & Olvera, 2015). Army NCOs has now become an indispensable element of the forces’ structure that helps to save resources and improve performance. The NCOs’ proficiency in the management of vast and complex organizations delivers efficiencies in the army by extending its operational and tactical range. Soldiers have developed the skill to resolve problems at the lowest level, which makes the work of the commander easier (Bissel & Olvera, 2015). According to Kirkland (1990), trusting and empowering subordinates is more likely to result in combat success. Using the Battle of France, the Battle of Malaya and Singapore, and the Chinese Intervention in Korea, Kirkland shows how trust, respect, and empowerment lead to combat effectiveness. The dispersed nature of the battlefield was inconsistent with the traditional authoritarian technique and therefore, decentralized authority has proved to be effective.
The traditional authoritarian technique in the army was no longer bearing combat success due to the uncertain and dispersed nature of the battlefield. As a result,the army focused on empowering the NCOs through education, which has helped to produce young, physically and mentally equipped soldiers. This change in leadership has seen massive improvements in the forces in war and peacetime.
Bissell, J. & Olvera, C. (2015, Nov-Dec). The United States Army’s Secret to Success: Capitalizing on the Human Dimension to enhance its Combat Capabilities. Military Review, 85 – 91. Retrieved from https://www.armyupress.army.mil/Portals/7/military-review/Archives/English/MilitaryReview_20151231_art015.pdf
Kirkland, R.F. (1990, Dec). Combat Leadership Styles: Empowerment versus Authoritarianism. Defense Technical Information Center. Retrieved from http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a517842.pdf
Rush, R.S. (2009, Oct). The Evolution of Noncommissioned Officers in Training Soldiers. The Land Warfare Papers: Association of the United States Army, 75. Retrieved from https://www.ausa.org/sites/default/files/LWP-75-Evolution-of-Noncommissioned-Officers-in-Training-Soldiers.pdf