Sergeant Major of the Army: NCO’s need to ‘be where your boss isn’t’
May 23, 2023

Sergeant Major of the Army Michael A. Grinston and his predecessor retired Sergeant Major of the Army Daniel Dailey, shed light on the significance of trust, decentralized command, and partnerships in modern warfare. The concept of mission command, characterized by decentralized execution based on mission orders, has become essential in military operations.

As Army units operate across vast distances, decision-making is increasingly placed in the hands of lower-ranking soldiers. Grinston stressed the vital role of senior NCOs in mission command. He urged them to be where their superiors are not, enabling them to perceive critical factors that might escape higher-ranking officers. Assessing the motivation and capabilities of allied forces becomes crucial, particularly in regions like Russia and Ukraine where the will to fight has been a pressing concern.

The experiences of deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan were also reflected upon. Grinston pointed out that trust between officers and NCOs is paramount in achieving successful outcomes. Without this trust, efforts can be hindered and progress impeded. Major General Joseph Ryan echoed these sentiments, acknowledging the challenges faced in building reliable partners, especially in countering China in the Pacific.

Building and maintaining trust is a complex task, requiring time and effort. Grinston shared personal anecdotes to emphasize the importance of trust within military units and with international partners. His emphasis on operationalizing trust and the need for buy-in from enlisted ranks resonated with the audience.

However, the symposium also highlighted divergent perspectives. Fleet Master Chief David Isom of the U.S. Navy, while acknowledging the significance of trust and decentralized command, noted that sometimes top-down efforts driven by higher-ranking officers are necessary. The empowerment of NCOs in partner forces was identified as an area that requires attention.

The discussions at the symposium shed light on the evolving nature of military operations and the role of NCOs in enabling mission command. Trust and decentralized decision-making are crucial for success in modern warfare. As the United States military works towards building reliable partnerships, the lessons learned from past conflicts and the operationalization of trust will be vital in countering emerging threats effectively.

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