When I took command as Supreme Allied Commander Europe and Commander of U.S. European Command, I made it my priority to speak with leaders and their teams to find ways to assist them in executing their missions. In my travels and discussions I have discovered one common element -- a vast reservoir of untapped potential within our Non-Commissioned Officer Corps.
I have witnessed the exceptional tactical and technical skills, and leadership abilities of our NCOs. As a young pilot, every time I flew, I relied on the skills of the jet's crew chief, a junior NCO, who had meticulously prepared my aircraft for the mission.
Later as a squadron commander, it was Senior NCOs such as my Squadron Chief, Chief Master Sgt. JD Davis, who coached me on how to lead and how to command the squadron. Other Chiefs like Chief Master Sgt. Steve Hutton taught me, and carried the mission as I commanded at the Group and multiple wing levels.
U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Anthony Thomas, 52nd Operations Support Squadron aircrew flight equipment training instructor, shares information about the care and readiness of aircrew flight equipment June 27, 2013, during the Vienna Document 11 visit held at Spangdahlem Air Base. The Vienna Document is a politically binding agreement between approximately 57 nations that provides insight to the safety and security capabilities of combat bases.
As I've risen through the ranks as a leader and commander, I've benefitted from the support, trust and wise counsel of my NCOs. I continue to rely upon my NCOs today. Command Chief Master Sgt. Todd Small and Command Chief Master Sgt. Craig Adams serve as my Command Senior Enlisted Leaders. With over 60 years of combined military service, these two leaders provide me with a wealth of knowledge and insight as I make command decisions.
I believe our Alliance abounds in NCOs like these two leaders. And, I believe we must fully engage our NCOs' unique capabilities to strengthen NATO's collective defense and assist its transformation.
NATO has been working diligently to improve the development and engagement of our NCOs. Examples include establishing the Command Senior Enlisted Leader positions across the NATO command structure, designating 2008 as the "Year of the NCO," and publishing NATO's first NCO Strategy and Guidelines.
A number of organizations and institutions are playing key roles in this effort. The NATO School and the Swiss Armed Forces Professional NCO School joined forces to design and teach NCO education courses. Allied Command Operations and US EUCOM CSELs partnered with the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies to organize the annual International Senior Enlisted Seminar.
I am also encouraged by the work of many of our Allies. We've seen many nations establish key senior enlisted leadership positions including Belgium, Hungary, Romania, Ukraine and Turkey. Other nations have developed their own multinational NCO education and outreach programs, such as the Winter Camp in Slovenia and Summer Camp in Croatia.
These efforts have proven beneficial by creating an NCO Corps that is increasingly empowered and responsible for individual training, discipline, and the health and welfare of their service members.
ATLANTIC OCEAN - Gunner's Mate 2nd Class Michael Wakefield, center, instructs Sailors on the proper operation of a .50-caliber machine gun during a live-fire exercise aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Jason Dunham (DDG 109). Jason Dunham, homeported out of Norfolk, Va., is deployed to the U.S. 6th Fleet area of responsibility in support of maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts.
Today, NATO is at the height of its ability to operate together and our tactics, techniques and procedures are better than ever. As the 21st Century continues to unfold, the Alliance will face new threats and we cannot afford to rest on our laurels. In this era of fiscal belt-tightening, we must look for opportunities to better develop and employ the assets we already have, in particular our NCOs. Their abilities and capacity to lead will allow us to retain the hard-won lessons forged from more than a decade of conflict.
As we move forward, I believe the Alliance can rely heavily on the NCO Corps to help provide for the collective security of member nations, to deter conflict and to prevail against adversaries. When we sharpen our NCOs' capabilities through exercises, training, experience and professional education we sharpen our nations’ combat edge.
NATO and our partner nations are standing atop a gold mine of capability: our NCO Corps. We need to get better at mining it and refining it. In the coming weeks, I'll outline a series of initiatives, which demonstrate our commitment to accomplishing this goal. I'm looking forward to engaging with my commanders and their senior enlisted leaders to drive this effort forward.
"From the Cockpit"
Supreme Allied Commander, Europe
Commander, U.S. European Command