The American military does a great job giving noncommissioned officers and petty officers responsibility and authority in combat zones, but doesn’t do as well back home, the senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a recent interview.
Army Command Sgt. Maj. John W. Troxell said he is aware of the problem and believes that the military can fix it.
Troxell said the gap was highlighted for him during a recent trip to Iraq, when service members spoke to him about how they were allowed to do their jobs there in a way they were not allowed to do when at their home stations.
Another example that Troxell said sticks with him happened when he was the senior enlisted advisor to the commander of the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command in Afghanistan. “I went to Helmand province to visit the Marines,” he said. “I told the sergeant major that I wanted to go on a squad patrol to see how we’re doing.”
Troxell joined up with a patrol led by a young Marine Corps sergeant. The sergeant had nine Marines, two squads of Afghan troops and a joint tactical aviation controller.
“If you think of the responsibility that sergeant had at that time, he was responsible for the protection of that patrol,” Troxell said. “He was responsible to repel any attack and defeat the enemy. He was responsible for the center of gravity in any combat situation -- the civilian population out there.
“[The sergeant] was responsible for conducting any key leader engagements with the elders of the villages out there,” he continued. “He was responsible for managing assets -- like close air support -- to get after the enemy. And we are talking about a 22-year-old sergeant in one of the most dangerous places in the world.”
But bring that sergeant back to the United States and place him in an environment with layers of leadership above him, Troxell said, and the culture tends to get away from executing that mission command and allowing him to get after disciplined initiative within the commanding officer's intent.
Much of this is because of longstanding policies and procedures that must be followed at stateside installations, he said. Still, he added, he believes the military can do better.
“When someone comes out of a deployment, the responsibility and the ability to execute disciplined leadership there should be mirrored back in the garrison environment,” he said.
But trust comes through training and certification, Troxell said. “In some cases, if someone hasn’t exhibited in training or the certification process that they can be trusted to execute mission command, then if I’m the guy in charge, I’m not going to allow them to do it,” he said.
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