Best Defense

Is there really such a thing in the Army as ‘NCO business’? And if so, what is it?

As a reporter covering the Army, I was always intrigued by the term “NCO business.” I’d hear sergeants use it as a way, I thought, of moving officers out of the way so some real truth telling could go on. But I always was struck at how the term “NCO business” was one of those ...

As a reporter covering the Army, I was always intrigued by the term “NCO business.” I’d hear sergeants use it as a way, I thought, of moving officers out of the way so some real truth telling could go on. But I always was struck at how the term “NCO business” was one of those non-doctrinal things that never seemed to be mentioned in official manuals and other publications, yet which the Army seems to live by. So when it came up in a recent discussion, I asked frequent commenter “Hunter” to explore the term a bit. Here is his response.

 

By Lt. Col. ‘Hunter’
Best Defense guest columnist

I made a comment the other day about NCO business and how I tend to believe that the Commanding General at the 82nd Airborne was perhaps crossing out of his lane. Certainly I hoped that he had consulted his NCO chain of concern before sending down an edict that all physical training would be conducted at the company-level within his division. Specifically, I said “I would hope that this DIV CG ran his bright idea by his CSM. That guy (the CSM) should of told him — “Sir, that’s a good idea but…” or he should of said (my preference) “Sir, Shut the F up. Stay out of NCO business.” (BTW I hate ‘NCO business’ there is no such thing, but this case it might be an appropriate statement).”

Again, as a general rule I don’t believe in the concept of NCO business. NCO business is usually the carte blanche excuse for an NCO to deflect an officer and say something to the effect of “Sir, that’s NCO business. Don’t concern yourself with that.” Of course, this is almost always a mistake. Any business in the military, especially where commander’s are held to the idea that they are responsible for both the success and failure of the unit is by proxy officer business as well.

Tom asked me to write some more on the subject but, unfortunately, I didn’t feel I had to much more to add. What else could I say? So, I did what I would usually do in this kind of situation and consulted those who ought to know better. In this case I called my old CSM, who served as my right hand man when I commanded a CAV SQDN.

Point blank I asked him. “Tell me what you think about the term ‘NCO business’?” He told me that the only true NCO business is the individual training and mentoring of soldiers. He went on to say that NCO business usually is a detracting and distracting means to separate NCOs and officers into, for lack of a better word, cliques. This he said could only harm the unit. And then he said, for me his most important point, that what is often called NCO business is really “leader” business and all the unit leaders, NCO and officer alike, must be concerned with.

I agree completely.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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