Noncommissioned officers have to keep growing, have to keep learning and have to keep setting the example for the American military to remain the best in the world, the senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told a group of Air Force senior enlisted leaders in Washington April 4.
Army Command Sgt. Maj. John W. Troxell told the airmen that the United States “has the most empowered noncommissioned officer/petty officer corps in the world.”
The Air Force Element Senior Enlisted Leader Summit, which looks to strengthen the joint forces team, had NCOs from the Pentagon, the combatant commands and combat support elements. They represented airmen involved in everything from the nuclear enterprise to special operations to cyber ops.
National Defense Strategy
Troxell’s discussion hinged on the National Defense Strategy and its central position in what DoD must accomplish. The strategy calls for the military “to build a more lethal force,” the sergeant major said.
“The U.S. military must maintain this advantage,” Troxell said. “Let there be no doubt in every warfighting domain right now that we have competitive advantages. But some of those advantages are eroding because of continuing resolutions, because of unstable budgets.”
The strategy is based on the United States maintaining strong alliances and building on them, he said, adding that NATO and the treaties with Pacific nations are fundamental to the defense of the United States and its allies. Senior NCOs will be called upon to play a role in this effort, he said, working with counterpart NCOs and helping to train indigenous forces.
The senior NCOs discussed the threats facing the United States. The nation will be in a long-term economic, political, diplomatic and military power competition with Russia and China, so all aspects of national power must be maintained, Troxell told the senior enlisted leaders.
Russia and China are both – in their own areas – trying to dismantle America’s network of allies. Russia is seeking to portray the United States as an undependable ally in Europe and is doing itself to fracture NATO – the most successful alliance in history, Troxell said.
Russian and Chinese Actions
Russia’s use of cyberwarfare and actions short of war continue to this day. Russia’s occupation of Crimea and active participation in operations in eastern Ukraine show the Vladimir Putin-led nation continues its strategy of confronting the West, the sergeant major said.
China is using the same strategy and is trying to drive wedges between the United States and its treaty allies South Korea, Japan, the Philippines and Thailand. China is using economic power, propaganda, cyber, foreign aid and military modernization to expand its sphere of influence into the South and East China Seas and globally.
Troxell also addressed the threats from Iran, North Korea and violent extremism. He called Iran the leading state sponsor of terrorism, noting it has supported the Houthi in Yemen and Hezbollah in Lebanon. “All of these proxies that we are bumping into all around the world … we are seeing have Iranian influence,” he said.
The sergeant major said he is guardedly optimistic about developments in North Korea, but more must happen before he is convinced the North Korean leader’s overtures to the United States are more than just a charm offensive. “We will see as we move forward here,” he said.
He told the airmen he is worried that combat operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria have stalemated in the middle Euphrates River valley. Turkish operations against the Kurds in Northern Syria have distracted Syrian Democratic Forces that were mounting the operations against ISIS, he noted.
The United States also must guard against ISIS threats in Africa and Asia, and the fight against violent extremists is a generational one, the sergeant major said.
Troxell pointed out that the discussions among the senior enlisted leaders mirror those happening at the general and flag officer level. The days of senior enlisted just being concerned with “haircuts and cigarette butts” are long over, he said. Noting that about 70 percent of senior enlisted Air Force airmen are college graduates, he said they extend the reach of their commanders in ways that other militaries only dream about.
Setting the Example
Senior NCOs also must set the example and train their service members to be ready to face “the worst day of their life,” the sergeant major said. That means they must be physically ready if they find themselves in combat. This is not a rare happening, and it has to include all members of the military – a human relations specialist in Afghanistan or Syria may have to respond to an attack, Troxell said.
“It’s not enough to just meet the minimum standard,” the sergeant major said. “Every day we have to train people to face the worst day of their life and get them better each day -- physically, mentally and emotionally.”
And it should be tough, he said.
“Physical training should not be an event where everybody feels good about each other,” he said. “People ought to be crawling off the PT field. They ought to be near puking, and they ought to know that this is going to make me better every day. We have to set the example by validating our credentials and being that leader who inspires the troops and intimidates the enemy.”