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Chapter IV


The NCO is more than a leader, he is a doer and a teacher. He takes the raw material of a young and inexperienced recruit and creates a soldier. The following trends and lessons learned are drawn from experience at the Combat Training Centers.



Throughout CTC rotations, time manaqement is a problem. Much improvement is still needed in all units at all levels of command. NCOs can take the lead.

Time is not used effectively during preparation for most missions. The backward planning process is often not used, yet it is the most effective way of planning the use of time. Using their TACSOPs, NCOs must help set priorities of work by clarifying through the chain of command what must be done. Some NCOs report alack of guidance and that the planning group takes too much time to issue the task force operations order (OPORD). The NCO must be included in the process and ask questions.

Lessons Learned

  • Ensure the planning, preparation, and, in some cases the execution phase, happen even though higher leaders are involved elsewhere.

  • Ensure SOPs are complete and used--that saves time. Use checklists accordingly.

  • Prepare for missions while the operations order is still being developed. For example inspections, rehearsals of standard drills, and coordination can occur just from the information in the warning order. Don't wait to begin! Start as soon as the warning order is given.


As Baron Von Steuben noted over 200 years ago, the American soldier fights best when he knows why he is fighting and what his goal is.

The troops must be kept informed and the NCO must do it. This is a weakness noted during the CTC rotations. Individual soldiers did not know the mission. Some excuses for not keeping the soldiers informed include: "it was too late at night," "not enough time," or "we wanted them to get their rest." Overall the lowest enlisted soldiers didn't know the details of up coming missions. NCOs must tell the soldiers what is happening and what is expected of them.

Lessons Learned

  • Conduct more training on the five paragraph OPORD. Subordinates must know the planned scheme of maneuver, down to the lowest soldier.

  • As proven in battle, the private may become the sergeant.


The commander's intent is not adequately being briefed during OPORDs. NCOs must know and understand the commander's intent. Even if the commander's intent does reach platoon level it is often too vague to be understood.

Lesson Learned

  • The NCO must know and understand the commander's intent if he is to be effective and accomplish the unit's mission.


The information gathering process--reporting up and down--is often hampered by the lack of set TACSOPs. Units do not have key NCOs present at OPORD briefings.

Lessons Learned

  • TACSOPs are critical in keeping the NCO chain, and thus the soldiers, informed of the right information at the right time.

  • NCOS must be actively included into the OPORD preparation. This improves the flow of information to the soldiers.



Platoon Sergeants, First sergeants and other company level NCOs are not attending the OPORD briefing whenever possible.

For the NCO support channel to work, it's imperative the platoon sergeants and first sergeant know the OPORD in detail. Only then can they brief their soldiers on the mission. All levels will then understand what must be done.

Senior squad/section leader will prepare the platoon while platoon sergeant attends OPORD.

Lesson Learned

  • Key NCOs should attend the OPORD briefing:

    • First Sergeant
    • Platoon Sergeants
    • Communications Sergeant
    • NBC Sergeant
    • Maintenance Sergeant
    • Supply Sergeant.


The squad leaders and section sergeants are not training to standard and checking their soldiers on basic collective mission oriented tasks such as range cards, fighting positions, and movement techniques.

Throughout operations at the CTCs, pre-combat checks are often sporadic. The checks are characterized by a lack of attention to detail and a lack of a sense of urgency.

NCOs fail to ensure identified shortcomings and deficiencies are corrected prior to battle. Logistical shortages in particular are not generally reported or corrected. Without pre-combat checks and follow-up, no knows if the unit is ready for battle.

Lessons Learned

  • Conduct pre-combat checks to standard as listed in the TACSOP.

  • Supervise and follow-up to make sure corrective action is accomplished.

  • Inform next higher leader of corrected and uncorrected faults.


Rehearsals are largely ineffective. This is sometimes due to the time factor, and not rehearsing at night when it's a night mission, or on similar terrain to that of the mission area. The rehearsal must be done to standard. Remember, a poor rehearsal is often worse than none at all. It reinforces poor performance. Over half of task forces didn't rehearse. Of those rehearsals, 45% were not effective. During the preparation for combat phase more thorough rehearsals were possible 79% of the time.

Lessons Learned

  • Rehearse in similar terrain and lighting conditions.

  • Set standards and rehearse again if needed.

  • Advise the next higher leader/commander of needed changes to the maneuver plan or OPORD.

  • Rehearsals are critical to the success of a mission. Plans that are not rehearsed, most often fail.


Some units are over tasking their squads and platoons. NCO should ensure that one or two platoons or squads are not tasked to do everything because they always do a good job.

Some examples of platoons being over tasked in a recent rotation were:

  • A unit was tasked to provide task force observation posts and the same personnel were used for five consecutive days.

  • A medical platoon was tasked so heavily to conduct general details within the combat trains (radio watch and guard duty) that they couldn't do their primary mission when the time came.

Lesson Learned

  • Ensure soldiers and units are tasked evenly. Over tasking soldiers degrades combat performance. It is more than a question of fairness; it is a question of combat effectiveness.



One example from the past of a disciplined NCO comes from the American Army on the Plains before the Civil War:

Corporal Wood, a Dragoon NCO at Ft. Leavenworth, was a leader and role model for his men because of his self-discipline. With that self-discipline, he found it easier to enforce discipline on his men. One of those men, Percival Lowe (later a First Sergeant in the same regiment as Wood) wrote of him as "a determined, lionhearted man who would have commanded as completely as a private as he would as a Captain." Wood took charge of his men, disciplined them when they needed it and by force of personality led them. The soldier expects discipline and is disappointed when he doesn't get it. The NCO mustbe the one who provides it. (Taken from Percival Lowe, Five Years a Dragoon)

Overall field discipline within the units training at the CTCs ran from fair to good.

Lessons Learned

  • NCO must instill and enforce field discipline in themselves first.

  • Ensure the TACSOP is complete, includes standards, is understood by the individual soldier, and is used every time the trooper goes to the field. NCOs ensure compliance with the TACSOP.


In the heat of battle, some platoon sergeants are not sure of their personnel status. This is especially true when troops are dismounted from carriers, evacuated as casualties orwith the status of attachments.

Part of the problem is one of awareness and command emphasis.

Lesson Learned

  • Emphasize personnel accountability:

    • Start in garrison--all the time! Accountability must be a state of mind.

    • Include soldiers attached to the unit from other organizations.

    • Stay aware of casualties being evacuated to the rear.

    • Starting with the individual soldier, keep the next higher leader informed.


At the CTCs an average of 50% of the leaders are casualties on each mission. When given the opportunity, or in the absence of officers, the NCO cannot hesitate to aggressively take charge. NCOs are not being used to their full capacity, especially at the junior NCO level (squad leader and team leader). The NCO is often the only leader present. There will be times when both the platoon sergeant and platoon leader are absent. The only way to learn how to lead is to do it.

Lessons Learned

  • Insure the succession of command is clearly established and understood. This should be in the TACSOP and OPORD.

  • TACSOP should contain procedures to report leader casualties and how to assume leadership.

  • Periodically in home station training "kill" leaders, especially at critical moments.

  • The inevitable leader casualties and battle pay-off of continuity of command training is worth the price in home station training. Leaders must be comfortable functioning at the next higher level. Only experience generates that self confidence.


Range cards and sector sketches are often not done or not done to standard. The squad leader and platoon sergeant must be aware of the importance of range cards and section sketches and stress their importance to their soldiers. The soldier without a range card is like an M60 MG being fired by hand. The range card and sector sketch provide the control, like the "tripod and T&E mechanism". Without a range card or sector sketch, the unit loses fire discipline, integration, and effectiveness.

Lesson Learned

  • The NCO must ensure range cards and sector sketches are done to standard and at every opportunity.


Research has shown that four to six hours of sleep per day is the minimum amount needed to remain combat effective. Soldiers become combat ineffective after three days without sleep. If leaders don't get enough sleep to remain effective, planning and execution will suffer. Effective work and sleep plans are critical.

Lessons Learned

  • Include standards on sleep plans in the TACSOP. Incorporate the plans into the priorities of work during continuous operations.

  • The platoon sergeant must develop an equitable plan to allow for adequate security work, and rest.

  • Cross-train specialties in the unit so that soldiers can sleep while others pick up the work load.

  • Leaders must set the example by complying with their plan.


In a recent chemical school study it was concluded that command and control, communications, and direct/indirect fires are dramatically affected during operations under NBC conditions. Soldiers are omitting or poorly completing critical tasks. In full MOPP 4 it takes longer for soldiers to complete critical tasks. Increased time to execute the simplest tasks creates fatigue, frustration, and dehydration, all of which makes less effective soldiers. This has a dramatic effect on the NCO's ability to lead and execute the mission.

Lessons Learned

  • NCO must ensure the NBC threat is taken seriously by meeting the standard themselves.

  • Incorporate NBC into all phases of training.

  • Ensure all soldiers are trained to standard individual tasks.


AARs are one of the best learning tools we have. It's a process in which the NCO and soldiers can discuss the actions conducted during an operation both in combat and training. This offers both the soldier and NCO a chance to see their weak and strong points. The NCO is generally on the ground when the job is done and has the first-hand knowledge of the soldier's and unit's performance.

Lessons Learned

  • AARs must be conducted after all training exercises and combat operations. Conducting AARs to standard is a skill acquired through repetition. Do them at every opportunity.

  • AARs must be a two way communication between the NCO and the soldiers. They are not lectures.

  • All NCOs must know how to conduct an AAR.

  • Conduct not only unit level AARs --squad, platoon --but also NCO AARs, with all NCOs of a given unit such as platoon or company.


During most rotations at the CTCs, the supply sergeants of many companies could have been used more effectively. This would have freed the First sergeants to be present at the company's OPORD briefing and made them more flexible and mobile on the battlefield. First sergeants must be able to provide supervision to the lower grade NCOs and soldiers "on the line". They must set the example and be seen.

Combat Service Support is an area in which NCOs need to be closely involved. To keep flexible and abreast of the CSS operation, the First sergeant needs the help of the supply sergeant.

NCOs are in charge of logistics at company level. Take charge of it!

Lesson Learned

  • First Sergeants must provide effective information to their commanders on the individual soldier's combat readiness, assist with tactical advice and supervise and train the lower grade NCOs and soldiers. The more encumbered they are with admin and CSS details, the less effective they will be in those areas.


The CSM is a vital source of information to the commander and is a key leader in dealing with his NCO. The command sergeants major are most effective when they are involved with their unit's maneuver. In one case the CSM performed very well as the task force troubleshooter, staying abreast of combat missions and monitoring combat service support. During breaks in the battle he moved all over the battlefield. In another instance, a CSM positioned himself in the task force combat trains during operations. He worked with the S-4 and helped to push the emergency resupply, maintenance and medical evacuation support forward.

Lessons Learned

  • The command sergeant major has a tremendous impact on the soldier's performance, team cohesion, and unit effectiveness. He looks out for the welfare of their men and can foster a positive command climate.

  • The CSM can greatly assist by :

    • Identifying, correcting, and bringing to the commander's attention NCO leadership problems.

    • Moving with the commander to assess unit morale and logistics problems.

    • Staying with one company/team per day and reporting back to the Bn TF commander on the quality of NCO leadership and status of soldier effectiveness.

Table of Contents
Chapter III: The Role of the NCO
Chapter V: A General's Perspective

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One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger - by Matthew Yglesias