It’s a major focus in the first paragraph of the NCO Creed:
No one is more professional than I. I am a noncommissioned officer, a leader of Soldiers. As a noncommissioned officer, I realize that I am a member of a time honored corps, which is known as “The Backbone of the Army“. I am proud of the Corps of noncommissioned officers and will at all times conduct myself so as to bring credit upon the Corps, the military service and my country regardless of the situation in which I find myself. I will not use my grade or position to attain pleasure, profit, or personal safety.
But what does this really mean? Well in clinical terms the spine or backbone is the pillar of support for the body’s weight and it protects the lines of communication from the brain to the rest of the body. That seems like an extremely accurate description for what the NCO Corps in the Army strives to do.
Number one we provide support, not just to the officers appointed over us but also to the Soldiers who are placed under us. We support the chain of command by ensuring the mission intent is met utilizing the current manpower and resources available. Platoon Leaders or commanders need to remember this concept. Too many commanders have made a habit of micro-managing the NCO Corps, which not only makes them less effective, but also depletes them of the chance to grow and develop lower level or future NCOs. If the task is as simple as take that hill give an NCO the order and watch him/her go to work.
Officers in the Army have been taught not to trust NCOs, and lack faith in their competence and ability to accomplish the mission. You may ask why this has happened, well there is no simple answer but one of the contributing factors was retention during the height of the war. The Army was so concentrated on keeping the right number of soldiers to fill positions, that they stopped caring about whether they were the right kind of soldiers to fill the positions. And since the Army needed more soldiers, they also needed more leaders. Big Army didn’t care if they were quality leaders just as long as you had the right leader to soldier ratio.
It was almost impossible to get a soldier or NCO out of the Army from 2003 to around 2009. Not only that but the Army would also stop-loss soldiers who wanted to transition out, further complicating the problem. If a leader denied someone a promotion who had enough time in grade then they had to personally answer for why they were failing the soldier (really why they were failing to help the Army show the proper numbers). People who weren’t ready and didn’t care were then promoted.
So some of the criticism received is the fault of the NCO corps, we did it to ourselves. But now that the Army is utilizing QSP and lowering the retention control points to keep only the most qualified individuals we need to take back the reigns. We need to show pride in our profession, and prove that we are the Backbone of the Army again. We need to tell our officers that if it involves training, discipline, or standards we got this. We also need to show them our innovative thinking and let them know we just need the task or intent and we can carry out the rest. They shouldn’t do our jobs for us, and we should train the ones below us to the standard.
Below is a link you can follow if you would like to purchase a shirt that displays our place as the Backbone of the Army.