By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
Sept. 18, 2007 - While Navy Adm. Timothy J. Keating, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, was here today meeting with senior Tongan military and government officials, his senior enlisted leader, who had accompanied the admiral, was noticeably absent. Air Force Command Chief Master Sgt. James A. Roy frequently joins Keating during overseas meetings to explain how the U.S. military trains, equips and develops its enlisted force as leaders.
But, Roy said, Tonga already has a keen appreciation of the value of a strong enlisted force and noncommissioned officer corps, and an effort is afoot to professionalize the country's NCO corps.
So rather than preaching to the choir in military headquarters buildings, Roy spent his time here out in the field, checking on Tonga's progress. He visited with Tongan soldiers, sailors and Marines, observed troops going through basic training, walked through the Marine Corps barracks, and checked out the hangar that houses Tonga's tiny air force fleet.
"I'm impressed by what I've seen in Tonga, that commanders are giving (enlisted members) the responsibilities and authorities they need to lead the force," he said.
Just two and a half months into the job as PACOM's top NCO, Roy said he sees an increasing recognition within the Asia-Pacific theater of just how much the enlisted corps can bring to the mission.
Some regional countries haven't let go of the old mindset that strong NCOs diminish the authority of the officer corps, Roy conceded. "It doesn't. It compounds that authority," he said. "And that's what more militaries are realizing."
Mongolia, for example, has left behind its old Soviet-style military structure, investing training funds to develop its enlisted troops into leaders, he said. The Philippines are going through "complete reform" in professionalizing their force. Japan has made "huge strides," Roy said.
The U.S. military works closely with these countries to offer assistance. Foreign troops attend U.S. military schools and NCO academies. American NCOs train foreign servicemembers who return home to train other troops. The United States and its allies train together through military exercises around the world.
When he visits with foreign militaries interested in strengthening their NCO corps, Roy emphasizes there's no one-size-fits-all formula. Even the United States, which stands alongside Australia and New Zealand on the leading edge of NCO professionalism, has no one system for developing NCOs, he said.
In August, when a group of Malaysian officers visited the PACOM headquarters to talk about their enlisted force, Roy pointed to differences in the four U.S. armed services' NCO academy programs. "I told them that when you go out and visit our services, you will see different ways of doing it, all very successful in what they are accomplishing," he said.
As the United States helps other nations work to achieve similar successes within their own militaries, Roy said, it's also helping to build stronger regional partners.
This effort, called "capacity building," is critical for these partners to be able to carry out missions ranging from peacekeeping to humanitarian responses together.
But it's particularly important, he said, in light of pressing threats they face, particularly in the global war on terror.
"This is something we as a nation can't do alone. It's beyond our capability," Roy said. "Succeeding will take many nations working together and contributing to the effort. And as we help strengthen our partners, we're building the capacity that's needed to confront the threat."