Rank Insignia - Enlisted
The rank of corporal was established in 1775 with the birth of the Army and the NCO Corps. Along with the rank of sergeant, the corporal is the only rank which has never disappeared from the NCO Corps. The rank of corporal has always been placed at the base of the NCO ranks. For the most part, corporals have served as the smallest unit leaders in the Army: principally, leaders of teams. During the Vietnam conflict, the Army adopted the NCO Candidate Course. Going through this course, the soldier would by-pass the corporal rank and be promoted to sergeant or staff sergeant. This policy, combined with the increased use of specialists, lessened the overall number of corporals authorized in the Army. Like the grade of sergeant, corporals are responsible for individual training, personal appearance and cleanliness of their soldiers. As the command sergeant major is known as the epitome of success in the NCO Corps, the corporal is the beginning of the NCO Corps. As the NCO Corps is known as the backbone of the Army, the corporal is the backbone of the NCO Corps.
The sergeant operates in an environment where the sparks fly. The sergeant can be accurately described as being where the axe meets the stone. Although not the lowest level of rank where command is exercised, this level is the first at which enlisted soldiers are referred to as sergeant, and of all the grades of the NCO, this one, very possibly, has the greatest impact on the lower ranking soldiers. Privates, who are the basic manpower strength and grade of the Army, generally have sergeants as their first NCO leader. It is the grade sergeant that the privates will look to for example. Like the next grade, the staff sergeant, the sergeant is responsible for the individual training, personal appearance and the cleanliness of their soldiers. The sergeant is also responsible for insuring that: Each member of their unit is trained to competency in their MOS as prescribed in the appropriate soldiers manual; All government property issued to members of their unit is properly maintained and accounted for at all times and discrepancies are promptly reported; While on duty status, they be ready at all times to report to the location and activity of all members of their unit; Their unit is trained to function in its primary mission role. The authority of the sergeant is equal to that of any other grade or rank of the NCO. Often, however, a lack of delegation of authority by superiors improperly limits the sergeant's ability to act. Professionally competent leaders inherently command respect for their authority and the sergeant must be unquestionably competent in order to carry out the mission correctly, accomplish each task and care for assigned soldiers. The rank of sergeant is not a position for learning how to become a leader, no apprenticeship here. While certainly the new sergeant will be developing new skills, strengthening old ones and generally getting better, he is a sergeant!!! and is therefore, no less a professional than those grades of rank to follow.
The staff sergeant grade of rank closely parallels that of the sergeant in duties and responsibilities. In fact, the basic duties and responsibility of all the NCO ranks never change, but there are differences, significant differences, between this step in the NCO structure and the preceding one. Understanding these differences is vital. The staff sergeant is a more experienced leader of soldiers. The staff sergeant has considerably more time in the Army than the sergeant. It is proper to expect that the staff sergeant can bring the benefits of that experience to bear in any situation and under all circumstances. The major difference between the staff sergeant and the sergeant is not, as often mistakenly believed, authority, but rather sphere of influence. The staff sergeant is in daily contact with large numbers of soldiers and generally has more equipment and other property to maintain. The staff sergeant will often have one or more sergeants who work under his direct leadership. The staff sergeant is responsible for their continued successful development as well as that of other soldiers in the section, squad or team. More often than not, the lack of understanding of the function of this important NCO position by leaders is the cause of disruption and failure in small unit training. If NCO are "The Backbone" of the Army, then staff sergeants are the elements of which backbones are made. The complexities of the job of the staff sergeant increases as the responsibilities broaden. The staff sergeant's professional competence is measured by how well the staff sergeant develops, maintains and uses the full range of human potential of his soldiers. The staff sergeant's success, more than any other grade of the NCO rank, leads the path to the Army's success, and the footprints you will see behind those of our greatest military leaders are probably those of a staff sergeant, where he stood confident, proud and eager to assist.
The position title of sergeant first class [or platoon sergeant] is considered key in the command structure of the Army. The platoon sergeant generally has several staff sergeants who work under his direct leadership. The platoon sergeant is the key assistant and advisor to the platoon leader. In the absence of the platoon leader, the platoon sergeant commands the platoon. During the Vietnam era, the platoon sergeant was affectionately referred to as the "Plat-Daddy", and although the term has since faded, the role remains that of the "Father of the Platoon." The sergeant first class may serve in a position subordinate to the platoon sergeant or may serve as the NCOIC of the section with all the attendant responsibilities and duties of the platoon sergeant. Whether platoon sergeant or sergeant first class, this is the first level at which the term senior NCO properly applies. The platoon sergeant or sergeant first class generally has 15 to 18 years or more of military experience and is rightfully expected to bring that experience to bear in quick, accurate decisions that are in the best interest of the mission and the soldier. The platoon sergeant is expected to embody all the traits of a leader. Watching a successful platoon sergeant operate on a daily basis is an unforgettable experience. There, he is training the platoon or section in their collective tasks; here, he is checking maintenance. There, he is planning, executing; perpetual motion; a blur; the personification of a military leader and "hot stuff." When you are talking about the first sergeant you are talking about the life-blood of the Army. There can be no substitute of this position nor any question of its importance. When first sergeants are exceptional, their units are exceptional, regardless of any other single personality involved. Perhaps their rank insignia should be the keystone rather than the traditional one depicted here. It is the first sergeant at whom almost all unit operations merge. The first sergeant holds formations, instructs platoon sergeants, advises the Commander, and assists in training of all enlisted members. The first sergeant may swagger and appear, at times, somewhat of an exhibitionist, but he is not egotistical. The first sergeant is proud of the unit and, understandably, wants others to be aware of his unit's success. For the first time, the title of address for this grade is not sergeant, but first sergeant. There is a unique relationship of confidence and respect that exits between the first sergeant and the Commander not found at another level within the Army. In the German Army, the first sergeant is referred to as the "Father of the Company." He is the provider, the disciplinarian, the wise counselor, the tough and unbending foe, the confidant, the sounding board, everything that we need in a leader during our personal success or failure.
The master sergeant serves as the principal NCO in staff elements at battalion and often higher levels. Although not charged with the enormous leadership responsibilities of the first sergeant, the master sergeant is expected to dispatch leadership and other duties with the same professionalism and to achieve the same results as the first sergeant.
Enlisted soldiers who attain the distinction of being selected by the Department of the Army for participation in the command sergeants major program are the epitome of success in their chosen field, in this profession of arms. There is no higher grade of rank, except Sergeant Major of the Army, for enlisted soldiers and there is no greater honor. The command sergeant major carries out policies and standards of the performance, training, appearance, and conduct of enlisted personnel. The command sergeant major advises and initiates recommendations to the commander and staff in matters pertaining to the local NCO support channel. Perhaps slightly wiser and more experienced than the first sergeant, the command sergeant major is expected to function completely without supervision. Like the old sage of times past, the command sergeant major's counsel is expected to be calm, settled and unequivocally accurate, but with an energy and enthusiasm that never wanes, even in the worst of times. Assignable to any billet in the Army, the command sergeant major is all those things, and more, of each of the preceding grades of rank. The sergeant major is generally the key enlisted member of staff elements at levels higher than battalion. The sergeant major's experience and ability are equal to that of the command sergeant major, but the sphere of influence regarding leadership is generally limited to those directly under his charge.
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