"These NCOs already possess core NATO values as professionals acting with civility, confidence, expertise, pride, determination and complete honesty in their endeavours”, says Command Sergeant Major Michael Balch, the Allied Command Operations (ACO) and Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) Senior Enlisted Leader (SEL), after observing for three months what international ACO Senior Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs) have in common. With over three decades of US Army experience, Balch is quite used to leading Soldiers and NCOs and continues his duty while holding the highest-ranking enlisted position at SHAPE. He says he designed several NCO meetings to open internal communication among senior NCOs, to discuss current concerns with them, and to keep them informed about ongoing items of interest within the ACO and SHAPE communities. Balch meets monthly with senior NCOs in charge of various ACO staff sections and bi-monthly with senior NCOs of the National Military Representatives, but his NCO Professional Development (NCOPD) sessions are open to junior NCOs and mandatory for seniors.
In the first month of the New Year, CSM Balch, a US Army First Sergeants Course Leadership Award winner, addressed over 45 international OR8s and OR9s in what would be the first bi-monthly NCOPD, where he discussed his military career path, ACO's history and vision, and his leadership expectations for the audience members. The ACO SEL aims to achieve a level of success where senior NCOs become better NCOs "internationally” by the time they leave SHAPE and plans to achieve this through NCOPD sessions. "This development is being done to provide a broader perspective on NATO and our military organization. Guest speakers will include briefs and overviews about other parts of the command or more detailed updates on specific ongoing work or projects within the command,” Balch says, "so you will see a variety of international speakers from across the enterprise and not just here at SHAPE.”
Allied Command Transformation (ACT) SEL, CSM Ludek Kolesa of the Czech Republic Army, a United States Army Sergeants Major Academy graduate and Hall of Honor Inductee delivered the second bi-monthly NCOPD session and gave an overview of his organization and current projects. "I'm living the dream every single day,” he told the international audience, "…ten years ago I could have never dreamed I would be stationed in the states and doing something like this because we didn't have positions like this in my armed forces. We started building our NCO Support Channel in 2003 only. We started changing the force structure in this sense by empowering the NCOs.” His country does not have navy or marines forces, but he found himself stationed in Norfolk, Virginia, the largest naval base in the world, working for and alongside a US Air Force 4-Star General and later a US Marine as ACT Commander. The current ACT Commander is a French Air Force General. Kolesa said he's enjoying and learning every single day as an NCO and gives credit to former SACEUR, Gen. James L. Jones, for appointing US Marine Sergeant Major Alfred L. McMichael, the first Senior Enlisted Leader to Allied Command Operations, "One of the first tasks for US Marine SgtMaj McMichael got was to do something for NCOs, to bring international Senior NCOs together…that was the start of the NATO NCO Development Program.”
Although he became the third SEL of ACO in NATO's history in just September of last year, Balch has an idea of what his legacy will be when he departs SHAPE, "Creating a better international NCO environment here at SHAPE and strengthening the forum of international communication and work among Command Senior Enlisted Leaders working for the CHoDs and across the NATO Alliance's military organizations.”