An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Home : News : Commentaries : Display
NEWS | Aug. 28, 2012

Restoring the respectability of the NCO corps

By Chief Master Sgt. Robert Scarlett 437th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron

Noncommissioned officers, I need your help. I need your help in restoring the NCO corps to the level of respect and prominence it held in the Roman Army when the Centurion was respected not for his rank, but for his demonstrated leadership. Respect for the NCO corps appears, to me, to be at an all-time low, while respect for the SNCO seems to be relegated to those few who have been blessed with chief master sergeant stripes. What role does the NCO play in this perceived change?

I have heard NCOs complain that Airmen have lost respect for NCOs. I beg to differ. I believe many NCOs have given away their right to expect respect because some have not held up their part of the bargain. You see, another word for respect is admiration. People tend to respect those they admire.

Unfortunately, many NCOs leave little for Airmen to admire. Let me share what I have seen. I have seen NCOs jockeying for position. What are they jockeying for? Some are looking to avoid leadership by riding out their careers in some cushy job; others are jockeying to get the right job, or volunteer opportunity to be seen by the right people.

It would be better for our Airmen to see NCOs jockeying for position to correct uniform standards, instead of avoiding a confrontation or worrying you will no longer be seen as "one of the guys." Then they should see NCOs lined up to explain why uniform standards are relevant to the mission. They should see NCOs jockeying for position when we see a young NCO humiliate a subordinate and call it counseling. Then they should see us mentoring that NCO about the importance of counseling and the virtues of positive reinforcement. And they should see NCOs jockeying for position to respectfully tell an officer when their decisions negatively impact the enlisted force, and to offer alternatives that accomplish the mission while meeting the needs of the people.

I can tell you from experience, commanders don't wake up in the morning and say, "How can I harm my people today?" Like us, they make the best decisions they can with the information they are given; information that often came from a senior NCO.

What does it take for us to be the NCOs we promised we would be when we accepted the NCO charge? It takes our willingness to embrace Air Force core values, not just being able to recite them! Allow me to highlight my favorite aspects of the core values. Let's look at Integrity First, which includes eight principles. I want to quote one of these principles - honesty. In defining honesty, our core values say: "Honesty is the hallmark of the military professional because in the military, our word must be our bond. We don't pencil-whip training reports, we don't cover up tech data violations, we don't write misleading operational readiness messages. The bottom line is we don't lie, and we can't justify any deviation."

Now, let's look at Service Before Self, which features four principles. I will quote one principle, 'Faith in the System.' "To lose faith in the system is to adopt the view that you know better than those above you in the chain of command what should or should not be done. In other words, to lose faith in the system is to place self before service. Leaders can be very influential in this regard: if a leader resists the temptation to doubt 'the system,' then subordinates may follow suit."

I believe that is self-explanatory!

Last, but certainly not least, is 'Excellence In All We Do.' This includes five principles. I will quote the principle 'personal excellence.' "Military professionals must seek out and complete professional military education; stay in physical and mental shape; and continue to refresh their general education backgrounds." Attending PME and off-duty education should not be viewed as filling squares for promotion, but as tools to improve our ability to lead. I believe we can enhance the respectability of the NCO corps by jockeying for position to help our Airmen succeed and by internalizing Air Force Core Values to the full extent of their meaning.