Leadership and professionalism are just a couple of characteristics that come to mind when describing a Non Commissioned Officer. Those and many other positive attributes are used to describe the numerous NCOs who stood out from the rest with North Atlantic Treaty Organization's designation of 2008 as the Year of the NCO (YNCO). The Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), General John Craddock, along with the Supreme Allied Commander Transformation, Gen James N. Mattis, chose this year to communicate to key audiences that NATO values the leadership provided by NCOs in ground operations and that all NCOs should be trained to make decisions and encouraged to use initiative.
While overseeing YNCO activities, the Senior Non Commissioned Officer (SNCO) Allied Command Operations, CSM Michael Bartelle, visited bases and camps throughout NATO's areas of operation promoting the message.
CSM Bartelle says the inspiration for YNCO came about last year while he and several retired sergeants major discussed ways to promote the cause of NCOs within NATO. “The way we are executing most of our missions are with small units and most of these are run by NCOs.
Traditionally within the alliance, many of the nations don't have as strong a NCO Corps as they once had or [they] are in process of developing one”, he said.
Their informal meeting set in motion an initiative that would focus on the concept of the international NCO.
Stories showcasing NCO accomplishments and the key role they play in delivering NATO's operational priorities, as well as NCOs sharing knowledge and experiences with others in various ways, became prevalent from here to Kosovo. Although most NATO countries have many outstanding NCOs, the YNCO closing ceremony reserved room for just one from each.
Twenty-four of the 26-member nations (Iceland has no military and Norway is without an NCO Corps) sent their best of the best to NATO's Year of the NCO Recognition Ceremony and Reception held at SHAPE on November 25th.
The NCOs flew to Mons, Belgium from their respective countries and participated in events and briefings that only special SHAPE visitors experience. They toured the installation, received briefings from the both the United Kingdom National Military Representative and SNCO, and were warmly greeted and congratulated by the SACEUR at the evening's reception.
Asked if he faced any challenges organizing an event that would last 365 calendar days and involve all
26-alliance member countries, CSM Bartelle stated, “Strategic communications. Not being familiar with what we wanted in the beginning, but then over the course of time, developing the idea of how we can take it to the various nations and then disseminate it. It took us a while to develop that process.”
The mere differences in nationality, language, or culture is irrelevant when considering NATO NCOs, for according to CSM Bartelle the common denominator of NCOs around the world is, “the willingness to ensure mission accomplishment.” An intention of YNCO is proving investment in the NCO is worthwhile and NATO will continue to do so for many years to come.