By Sgt. Aimee Millham, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
June 26, 2007 – Historically, armies in Eastern Europe, Africa and Afghanistan have relied heavily on their officers to make decisions even at the lowest tactical level. But with the asymmetrical face of warfare today, some nations are looking to empower their noncommissioned officers to make the immediate, on-the-ground decisions that affect front-line soldiers in battle. "On this warfront, who is out on the convoys?" asked Sgt. Maj. Mariusz Piwonski, sergeant major of Polish Land Forces. "It is the NCOs. They are the ones out there making the big decisions, the decisions that affect the lives of soldiers."
This and other topics were addressed at a three-day conference here last week that brought together 30 sergeants major from across Europe and Eurasia to meet for the first Conference of European Armies for NCOs.
In line with the intent of the U.S. Army, Europe, commander's intent to build tomorrow's coalitions and leaders, the conference was designed to bring leaders from different armies together to exchange ideas, network and engage in open discussions regarding military matters, said U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Iuniasolua Savusa, USAREUR's command sergeant major.
While land forces commanders and other top officers from across Europe and the U.S. Army gather each year in Heidelberg, Germany, for such a conference, the Grafenwoehr event was the first of its kind for NCOs.
"We cannot think that this war is all officer business," said Army Command Sgt. Maj. Mark Ripka, U.S. Joint Forces Command. "We're going to end up executing the order anyway - might as well be involved in the decision-making process."
Nations like Romania, where the second command sergeant major of the army is now serving, and Slovakia, which has fully adopted the western NCO models, are mirroring the NCO corps structure of nations like the United States, Canada and Great Britain.
"They want the confidence we have in our NCO corps. To me, that shows passion," Savusa said. "Everyone here (at the conference), I believe, has that passion."
Slovakia sent its army's sergeant major to the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy and has used the U.S. NCO structure as a foundation for its corps because it believes it is important for all coalition partners to follow the same standard, said Sgt. Maj. Richard Fabricius, sergeant major of Slovakian armed forces.
"It is important, because when you have two platoons from two different nations going on the same raid, you can assume NCOs from both platoons will have a mutual grasp of what the NCOs' responsibility is," Fabricius said.
The conference included discussion panels, a tour of the Joint Multinational Training Command Warrior Leader Course facilities, and a demonstration of convoy live-fire training, where U.S. soldiers reacted to an improvised explosive device and engaged pop-up targets.
"This conference is perfectly located at JMTC, USAREUR's jewel, where we send soldiers from other nations through our NCO education system to enhance their commands," Savusa said.
The Conference of European Armies for NCOs will be an annual event slated to happen again in April, according to conference organizers.
(Army Sgt. Aimee Millhamis is assigned to the public affairs office, U.S. Army, Europe.)