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The platoon sergeant and his lieutenant: who does what?

A sergeant in the Army, if he's a squad leader or tank commander, is a commander just like an officer no difference whatever. It's just the smallest tactical element.

General William E. DePuy

As Commanding General, Training and Doctrine Command "The Officer/NCO Relationship," The NCO Journal, Fall 2001

NCOs, the backbone of the Army, train, lead and take care of soldiers--all soldiers. Rank is irrelevant. NCOs receive their authority from their oath of office, Federal law, rank and Army traditions and regulations.

Battery leaders, literally, are all "officers" as part of the organization called the Army--some are commissioned and some are noncommissioned. Intertwined, the officer and NCO corps share responsibilities for the discipline, morale, welfare, performance and combat readiness of the unit--although at different levels. Because battery NCOs are responsible for soldiers, they have a duty to share their expertise with and help develop their young officers. Likewise, these young officers have obligations to their NCOs and soldiers.

This article outlines expectations for platoon sergeants' training second lieutenants and lieutenants' obligations to their NCOs and soldiers.

What Officers and NCOs Do. The officer commands, establishes policy and manages the Army. He focuses on collective training that leads to accomplishing the mission. Primarily, he is involved with unit-level leadership, management and operations, concentrating on unit effectiveness and readiness. The officer also mentors and coaches his subordinate officers and NCOs.

The officer ensures his subordinate NCOs and soldiers are prepared to function as effective unit members and fight in combat.

The officer focuses on day-to-day operations at a higher level--developing training schedules, acquiring resources for upcoming events, troubleshooting unit challenges, planning and coordinating with the next higher unit and much more.

In contrast, the NCO conducts the daily business of the Army within established policy. He focuses on individual training that leads to mission capability. Primarily, the NCO is involved with individual soldiers and leading the team, concentrating on meeting the standards of performance, training soldiers and providing professional development for his officers and subordinate NCOs. At all times, the NCO coaches and mentors his soldiers, preparing them for combat and developing them for the future responsibilities.

The NCO ensures his soldiers are prepared to function as effective team members and fight in combat.

At the platoon level, the following are some of the daily tasks of the platoon sergeant. He conducts an accountability formation (an in-ranks inspection to ensure soldiers are cleanly shaven and have the proper uniform) at the physical fitness (PT) formation and then another one at the "first work call" formation. He inspects his platoon and marches his soldiers off to conduct police call. He then brings them back into a formation and marches them off to the training site.

During the day, the platoon sergeant may conduct other inspections (i.e., vehicle and equipment); may attend meetings with his lieutenant, other NCOs and (or) the battery commander; and will spend some time counseling soldiers and trying to solve their problems. With the officer's focus on higher level planning and resourcing, who is best qualified to train the second lieutenant in the day-to-day operations and technical aspects of the platoon? The lieutenant's platoon sergeant, of course.

Platoon Sergeant's Training and Developing His Second Lieutenant. I've been wearing the rank of NCO for 24-plus years, and I've trained so many soldiers that I can't count them. And to be honest, some of my easiest times training soldiers were when I trained lieutenants. They are eager to learn, just like a recruit coming into basic combat training (BCT).

The new Basic Officer Leader Course (BOLC) being developed to replace Officer Basic Courses (will have a Phase II of BOLC at Fort Sill) places more emphasis on young officers' abilities to lead small units in combat as new graduates. More than ever, they will need the expertise and support of their NCOs.

It is in the unit that the lieutenant learns how to lead the Army's most valuable and complex resource--the soldier. But the Army does a poor job of training lieutenants in units. At least part of the reason is the confusion about whose "responsibility" it is to train them.

Too often the platoon sergeant hears the battery commander's infamous statement, "Platoon Sergeant, it is your responsibility to train your platoon leader." Not true. It is the battery commander's responsibility to train the second lieutenant, to develop his skills and knowledge from the officer's perspective.

That does not mean the platoon sergeant does not share in the development of the second lieutenant--in fact he does. It is the platoon sergeant's duty, as a team player in the battery, to train and develop all of his new soldiers (the second lieutenant included) as much as he can.

The words of Command Sergeant Major John D. Woodward, as the Command Sergeant Major of the 84th Ordnance Battalion in Germany, express the duty clearly: "As a platoon sergeant, you must be constantly aware of your role as a teacher to your platoon leader....Your task is to convey your knowledge and experience to your lieutenant without being condescending or disrespectful." (Quote taken from the article "My Lieutenant and Me," The NCO Journal, Fall, 2001, Page 10-11.)

The Army does a great job of teaching NCOs how to train soldiers, but a poor job of teaching NCOs how to train and develop their young officers. Here are some things platoon sergeants can do to develop their lieutenants.

Have the right attitude. As the platoon sergeant begins working with the lieutenant, his first concern should be to provide the best possible leadership for the platoon. But at the same time, he is training a future commander and influencing the young officer's relationship with, reliance on and support of NCOs for years to come. The platoon sergeant should have the attitude that it is his duty to train and develop his lieutenant into the best in the battalion.

Apply tact and show loyalty. The platoon sergeant must share his knowledge and experience with the lieutenant. How does he do that and still let the lieutenant learn through experience? It isn't as hard as it seems. It requires a skill called "tact' and a trait called "loyalty."

Here's an example of what the platoon sergeant can say: "Sir, I recommend we attack the hill from the right because..." Now, suppose the lieutenant says, "I think the left side is better"? The platoon sergeant then has an opportunity to demonstrate his loyalty--an important trait. Without the unquestionable loyalty of his platoon sergeant, the junior officer will never trust him completely. And without complete trust in the platoon sergeant, the lieutenant probably won't learn much from him--the Army's loss.

So, what if the lieutenant's choice doesn't work? He will be wrong, but he will learn through the experience, enabling him to make a wiser choice in the future. He may realize that his platoon sergeant's ideas and recommendations were good ones. Regardless, the professional NCO must be loyal enough to do his utmost to see that the lieutenant's solution works.

I always told each of my young officers that no matter what happened, he would make all final decisions after listening to the advice of his NCOs and fellow officers. I also encouraged him to seek advice from and confide in two great soldiers: the battery first sergeant and battalion command sergeant major. Both of these "old" soldiers have a wealth of experience, not only in executing the mission, but also in taking care of soldiers in the field and garrison.

Be the technical expert. When it comes to common tasks, military occupational specialty (MOS) competencies and knowledge of weapons, the platoon sergeant must be the most proficient soldier in the platoon. This will go a long way toward developing the lieutenant's confidence in and willingness to learn from the platoon sergeant.

Teach him how the platoon operates. Another way for the platoon sergeant to develop the lieutenant and earn his respect is to show him continually how to accomplish platoon tasks. The platoon sergeant can teach him how to conduct inspections and, then, have him conduct inspections, such as in-ranks, TA50 layouts, and vehicle and equipment inspections.

Many times I've asked officers when they last inspected their section or platoon, and most answered, "Never." So my question was, "Why not--because someone said inspections were 'NCO's Business'?" Inspections ensure soldiers are equipped and prepared to go out and do what leaders are asking them to do--inspections enforce standards and take care of soldiers--inspections are "leaders' business."

If the platoon sergeant respects and supports his second lieutenant, the lieutenant will support and respect him.

Lieutenant Obligations to the Platoon Sergeant. Now, what does the NCO expect of the lieutenant (of officers of any rank)?

Have character and be dedicated. The platoon sergeant expects the highest standards of personal integrity and morals. He expects the lieutenant to maintain the highest state of personal appearance. He expects him to be fair and consistent, have dignity, have compassion and understanding, and treat each soldier as an individual with individual talents and problems.

The young officer must work to be good at his job, have a sense of duty and be selfless and honest. He must have courage, the courage to stand up and defend soldiers and assume the blame when things go wrong.

The NCO also expects his lieutenant to stick out his chin and say, "This man is worthy of promotion, and I want him promoted." On the other hand, he must have the greater courage to say, "This man is not qualified, and he must not be promoted."

Understand NCO business and development. Lieutenants should be involved in the NCO professional development program (NCOPD). NCOPD is and has to be the business of all leaders, NCOs and officers.

Although the command sergeant major plans NCOPDs and the first sergeant manages and conducts them, the platoon sergeant should invite his lieutenant to the training. If not, the lieutenant should express interest in attending. The NCOPD shows the competencies and professionalism of the NCO Corps and educates the young officer about the NCO's business and challenges.

Young officers must learn about the NCO education system (NCOES); the platoon sergeant should teach him. The young officer must understand the importance of the NCO's career development and his professional and personal growth.

Many times leaders, NCOs and officers, keep a soldier from attending a professional school because they can't spare him with a major equipment fielding or training exercise coming up. When leaders do that, they take away or delay the soldier's opportunity for further development, take away the opportunity to create a great NCO who has the right behavioral model to follow and may rob the Army of a reenlistment.

The second lieutenant also must learn the NCO promotion system. The officer promotion system and the NCO promotion system are very different. A second lieutenant will be promoted to first lieutenant and then captain automatically (almost) within a time schedule.

In contrast, NCO promotions are not "automatic." (However, one could make a case that promotions from private to private first class are automatic.) For example, a specialist has to prove himself, not only in his performance on the job and off duty, but also in the eyes of the first sergeant and battalion command sergeant major before they recommend the battalion commander approve his promotion. He knows when he becomes eligible, but he does not know when he will be asked to appear before the local board.

The platoon sergeant, battery first sergeant and battalion command sergeant major begin the process of educating young officers on the promotion system so they understand the impact of their actions--especially when they become battery commanders. The platoon sergeant has the opportunity to "grow" the lieutenant to become concerned with his NCOs' qualifications for selection for promotions and knowledgeable about their DA MOS selection rates.

Take pride in his NCOs. The young officer must take pride in his NCOs. Their performance reflects his efficiency. The more he encourages them and facilitates their military education and the development of leadership skills, the more qualified his NCOs are to perform. He can turn to the battery's expert, the first sergeant, for advice about his soldiers' developmental requirements.

Make training a priority. Leaders--both officers and NCOs--are responsible for effective, realistic training. The lieutenant allocates resources and time and provides clear guidance for training, while the NCO conducts the training. The lieutenant must help ensure that every minute of training fills a platoon training need.

The lieutenant should involve his platoon sergeant in planning training and in all training meetings. The platoon sergeant is an expert on what individual and platoon tasks need to be trained.

The lieutenant must exhibit tolerance for mistakes during training--they will happen. After all, soldiers are not in training to make their bosses look good--they are being trained and, like their lieutenant, will learn from their mistakes.

At the same time, the lieutenant should hold his platoon sergeant responsible for quality training. He shares responsibility for the development of the platoon sergeant's training skills with the battery first sergeant and the battalion command sergeant major.

If the second lieutenant respects and supports his platoon sergeant, then the sergeant will respect and support him.

Together, the lieutenant and platoon sergeant will lead their soldiers into combat, if need be. So they must work together in peacetime, one depending on the other, to ensure their soldiers are trained and ready to fight. If not, when the first round is fired in combat, it will be too late.

RELATED ARTICLE: NCO Leadership Booklets Online

* "The Sergeants Major of the Army: On Leadership and The Profession of Arms"

* "The Officer/NCO Relationship: Words of Wisdom and Tips for Success"

* "The Noncommissioned Officer Corps: On Leadership, the Army, and America"

* "The Noncommissioned Officer Corps: On Training, Cohesion, and Combat"

* "Command, Leadership, and Effective Staff Support: A Handbook Including Practical Ways for the Staff to Increase Support to Battalion and Company Commanders"

* "The US Army Noncommissioned Officer Corps: A Selected Bibliography" (1998)

Soldiers can get an electronic copy of these and other Information Management Support Center booklets from the Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL) website at http//call.army.mil; click on "CALL Products" and then "Special Products." The booklets are in PDF format. Soldiers also can call (703) 697-1365 or DSN 227-1365 if they have questions or problems downloading the booklets.

Command Sergeant Major Rodney L. Beck became the CSM of the Field Artillery and Fort Sill, Oklahoma, in May 2001. He served two years as a Platoon Sergeant, six years as a Battery First Sergeant and two and one-half years as a Battalion CSM. His last assignment was as the CSM of the 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) Artillery (M198 and M119 howitzers) at Fort Drum, New York. He was a Battery Nuclear, Biological and Chemical NCO; Drill Sergeant; Gunnery Instructor; FA Battalion Operations NCO; and Operations Sergeant for the Commander-in-Chief of Europe's Airborne Command Post Among other units, he has served in a Paladin unit in III Corps Artillery, Fort Sill; a multiple-launch rocket system (MIRS) unit in the 2d Infantry Division in Korea; and an M102 105-mm unit in the 9th Infantry Division at Fort Lewis, Washington. CSM Beck is a certified Computer Repair Technician.
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Title Annotation:United States Army
Author:Beck, Rodney L.
Publication:FA Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2002
Words:2548
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