Lessons from Good NCO’s

Hey, Friends!

One of the issues that comes up regularly in my therapy session is the job of a GOOD NCO.  I think that I was spoiled in the beginning of my military career by Sergeants who knew how to do the job.  I had several who taught me excellent lessons in duty and honor.  I thought that I would take a moment to share some of these lessons with the hope that it might make an impact on any current military leadership that might be reading this blog.

1 – Soldiers come first.  The role of the NCO is not to “push” troops.  Imagine a piece of rope on the floor.  If you grab the end of the rope and pull it behind you…the rope follows easily.  Now imagine standing behind the rope and try pushing it.  All it does is tangle..if it moves at all.  Leaders are called Leaders because they are in the front…Leading!

2. – Troops eat, drink and sleep before the NCO.  The best Sergeants I ever knew were last in line for chow.  They were last to go to bed after tucking in their soldiers.  They were up first in the morning.  I will never forget the time I saw the leadership of a platoon first in line for chow.  I couldn’t believe my eyes!  The PLT SGT and Section SGT walked right past their troops and got in line ahead of them.  The last will be first and the first will be last.  What does it say to a young Private that the SGT’s lunch is more important than their own?  How does that same Private feel when that same SGT says, “You go on ahead of me.”

3.  Privates make mistakes.  Sergeants make mistakes.  You take responsibility for that mistake, correct your action and drive on.  How can you expect a 18 year old kid to take responsibility when the 30 year old Sergeant won’t?

4.  Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Self-less Service, Honor, Integrity, Personal Courage.  These are not words that we speak.  Words without actions are dead statements.  Do not tell your soldiers that you respect them…show them that you respect them.  Treat them like you respect them as individuals. 

5.  Never ask a soldier to do something that you are not willing to do.  Don’t tell your soldier to dig a foxhole – go with them and help them dig the fox hole!  Put your shoulder to the shovel.  Sure, we who are NCO’s have other responsiblities in the course of our day that have to be met.  That doesn’t mean that you can’t get the crew started, go attend to your business and then return to check on your soldiers.  Don’t sit in the “office” drinking hot coffee while your troops are freezing their asses off!  Whatever you do, don’t show back up at that foxhole with your hot coffee, if you don’t have enough to share…you don’t have any!  (this goes for any of those special things that those who are more experienced often carry with us.  You ever offer a soldier a stick of gum in the field?  What does a few extra packs of gum cost you?)

6.  As a leader, you may find yourself with soldiers of both genders under your care.  IF you have female soldiers, you best know how to care for their physical needs.  I have never been in the field when male NCO’s didn’t have a bottle of Gold Bond in the “office” to assist other young men with their “jock itch” issues.  Female Soldiers don’t use Gold Bond!  Your field kit should include female hygiene items like pantyliners and kotex.  If you don’t, you are only caring for 1/2 of your troops.  Are you a male who is uncomfortable with this?  That’s okay!  You most likely have a female in your command that you can ask to help you out.  We are willing to share our knowledge with you and I promise you, that if you say to that female, “Hey, I know that female soldiers have needs beyond Gold Bond.  Can you be responsible for helping me take care of the female soldiers and their medical needs?”  She will JUMP at the opportunity and have great respect for you!  Remember, you are taking care of SOLDIERS, it has nothing to do with gender.  If you can’t discuss “jock itch” with ALL of your soldiers, then the problem is yours.  Give all of your soldiers someone to trust!

7 – Know the regulations.  If you don’t know…look it up.  AR670-1 Wear and Appearance.  If you don’t know the regulations for both male and female personnel in wearing the uniform…look it up.  Learn it.  As a female NCO I was not allowed to say, “gee, I don’t know how to put medals on a male class A uniform because I am a girl.”  Just look up the damn regulation and learn how to do it right.  Don’t have time to memorize?  That’s okay!  We teach soldiers to do their Preventative Maintenance on their vehicles and equiptment with the book open in front of them.  Why is it that we leaders think we should know it all?  Open the book, show you troops that learning the military way is life long.

8 – Know your job!  Know their job!  Stay proficient in your profession as a soldier.  If you are reserve component, make sure you do a little homework before drill.  If you are teaching someone how to put on a field dressing, study the manual before you even get there.  If you have soldiers in your squad or platoon that have a different MOS, ask them to show you what they are doing.  Let them teach you a little bit.  LEARN ONE, DO ONE, TEACH ONE.  Imagine what it means to that private when you say, “I’ve never done an oil sample on a Humvee…can you show me what you are doing?”  I can tell you what that Private says…they say, “WOW!  My job matters.  My Sergeant asked me how to do something.  That Sergeant cares!”

9 – Be the person your soldier trusts.  Don’t lie!  Don’t sugar coat!   If a day of inventory is going to suck..let them know that it will suck!  Make sure your soldiers are aware of their expectations from day 1, it is called an initial counseling.  You find out their issues, transportation, child care, spring allergies, that they hate the Chicken Ala King meal.  They learn your requirements.  Appearance, Timeliness, Attitude, Expectations.  Soldiers want to meet their goals!  Help them! 

10 – Praise in Public, Correct in Private!  I can’t tell you how important this is.  We do not need to humiliate people to lead them.  Sure, there are times when there is a serious correction that needs to be made.  I caught one of my troops laid out on the floor,  sleeping in a class and I dropped a stack of books right next to his head.  I spoke to him in a quick, attention getting manner.  He was lucky I caught him, had it been one of the other leadership there would have probably been a counseling involved or at least a 30 minute humilitation and push up sentence.  However, we need to remember to challenge the behavior, not the soldier!  I challenged the behavior and later we all laughed about it.  I made sure that the whole PLT knew that if any of them had done this in training there would have been the same consequences.  Make sure the last thing you tell your soldiers at the end of the day is, “Great work today!”  It means alot.

11 – Challenge the behavior, not the soldier!  “I have never seen a more poorly cleaned weapon in my life!  Do you understand why this is important?  Do you understand the process for cleaning the weapon?”   This forces a response from the soldier.  “What the hell is wrong with you Private, you lazy piece of dog spittle.  This weapon is filthy.  Don’t you know anything?  Are you trying to get me killed!”  No matter what you say next…your soldier is on the defensive and I promise you, they didn’t hear anything after the statement..”what the hell is wrong with you.”

Wow, you sure were touchy feely about this whole soldier thing.  What are you doing out there, tucking them in, reading them bedtime stories and cutting their hotdogs into little pieces so they don’t choke?  No, I was not a “touchy feely” leader.  I did know that my job was to create new leaders and that the most special relationship in the US Military is the relationship that an enlisted soldier has with the NCO.

You have to realize that as leadership you are this individuals “parent.”  Are you there to be their Mommy or Daddy…heck no!  However, like a parent the child will grow up and be like you were.  When abusive leaders teach young troops through abusive tactics, those young troops grow up to be abusive leaders.  It is a horrible circle!  When a leader nods their head at wrong doing it makes it right! 

You may also ask this very same soldier to die for his country one day.  We all know that when the crap really starts flying that it isn’t God or Country that is on their minds…it is the person next to them in the platoon and it is their leader.

As a leader – always make the choice for the hard right over the easy wrong.  Be prepared to give it all up in the name of Personal Courage.  Those values that the military teaches are not for E-4 and below..they are for everyone! 

Was I a “great and magnificent NCO?”  Heck no!  I did my best.  I can say that because I was “reared” by some really great NCO’s that I hope that I made them proud.  I sometimes thought, “How would Drill SGT Stephen have done this?”  I tried to follow their model.  I can also say that I hope that one day some of those “kids” that are now leading troops will know beyond a shadow of a doubt that their SGT cared about them.




8 Responses to “Lessons from Good NCO’s”

  1. Can Marine Corps Officers join MARSOC or become a Marine Scout Sniper? Says:

    […] Lessons from Good NCO's […]

  2. Troy Conner Says:


    Very good set of rules for life as well. I am 47 and I have never served. I ran across your posting while looking for a charity to send gold bond to the troops. What would be the feminine equal to gold bond “foot powder”. I plan on contacting the gold bond folks in TN about product donations for “Gold Bond for the Troops . org” our joking motto “Keep a private’s privates cool and dry”.

    William Troy Conner

  3. enemyinthewire Says:


    Service comes in more than one form…and what you are doing to help provide comfort to our men and women in uniform is a great service!

    Female equivalent of Gold Bond? There really isn’t one. However, females use Gold Bond as well. It does help with keeping feet dry and it is really great to use in areas where your equipment may cause rubbing against your legs, back and right up against the armpit.

    I do love your slogan! I think it is terrific. Thank you for thinking of the females as well.

    Thanks for your service and all you are doing to help!!


  4. William king Says:

    Hi, just read your post while I was hunting for an answer to a question that one of the E-3’s in my unit asked me. I have to say I agree with what you have written about being a good NCO.

    But, the above didn’t have the answer I was looking for, and was wondering if you could help me find this answer. Where did the tradition of NCOs eating last come from? I know there’s no regulation that directs NCOs to observe this and that it is more of a tradition, and as you wrote, a sign of the leader watching out for the soldiers under him/her. But when and where did this tradition start? Thank you in advance.

    SPC William King

    • enemyinthewire Says:

      Wow – that is a really good question. I even decided that I would Google it to try to figure out that answer and I couldn’t find a thing! I did find a little bit about the Mess Ceremonies – like the formal Officers Mess. Apparently that stems from Viking tradition and early America when the Officers were fed seperately from NCO/Enlisted because they paid for and cooked their own meals.

      I would say that it doesn’t really have a “formal” guideline or background. It is more of a tradition passed from one NCO to another. I learned it from my Drill SGT who most likely learned it from his.

      I will keep up the research and see what I can find! Thanks for taking care of your troops!!!


    • enemyinthewire Says:

      Maybe this will help…This is the NCO creed and it states …”I will always place their needs above my own.” Food is a need…by putting them first it fulfills the NCO Creed. However, the NCO Creed was not written/adopted until 1974.

      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.

      Competence is my watchword. My two basic responsibilities will always be uppermost in my mind — accomplishment of my mission and the welfare of my soldiers. I will strive to remain technically and tactically proficient. I am aware of my role as a Noncommissioned Officer. I will fulfill my responsibilities inherent in that role. All soldiers are entitled to outstanding leadership; I will provide that leadership. I know my soldiers and I will always place their needs above my own. I will communicate consistently with my soldiers and never leave them uninformed. I will be fair and impartial when recommending both rewards and punishment.

      Officers of my unit will have maximum time to accomplish their duties; they will not have to accomplish mine. I will earn their respect and confidence as well as that of my soldiers. I will be loyal to those with whom I serve; seniors, peers, and subordinates alike. I will exercise initiative by taking appropriate action in the absence of orders. I will not compromise my integrity, nor my moral courage. I will not forget, nor will I allow my comrades to forget that we are professionals, Noncommissioned Officers, leaders!

  5. William king Says:

    Wow, ok I have asked a few NCOs in my unit the very same question and that is along the lines of what they said. Also, as to not misrepresent myself, I am not in charge of any soldiers. It was just a question one of the newer soldiers asked me, I think because he was trying to find out below the radar. Afraid to look like he didn’t know something. So I am not an acting leader for any soldiers, but I do appreciate you doing some research on the topic. Google is actually how I found your blog. I still have yet to find anything about it that shows me that it’s more of a lead from the front type of tradition that seems to be handed down from NCO to NCO. Thank you again for your response.

    • enemyinthewire Says:

      Yeah – I think you are right…it is a “lead from the front” type of tradition that is just passed on.

      You certainly aren’t misrepresenting yourself in any way – and technically – you are in a position of “leading soldiers.” Not formally – yet – but definately in the way you carry yourself and the way you are trying to find answers to a perfectly good question.

      I am not sure what they are teaching these days – but in my day you learned the job of the person above you and you taught your job to the person below you. If for some reason I was gone…my squad leaders could take over for me. My squad leaders taught their soldiers how to do their job.

      Leadership and motivating soldiers is not something that a person can learn from a book. You can’t take a college class…not even the military can really “teach” you how to do it. You have to be mentored. I am quite sure that you see NCO’s that you want to emulate and other NCO’s that you think “now way am I gonna be like THAT person.” I have always found that the best leaders were “raised” by other good leaders.

      Best of luck in your career and thank you for your service!!



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