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Joint Staff Preparing NCO Education, Internships

Credibility, understanding, relationships and exposure are the four foundations needed to build joint leaders, and the Joint Staff is looking at a program to build joint senior enlisted leaders.

“The U.S. military excels at building [noncommissioned officers] that can take mission command and extend the commander’s reach,” said Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Shane Pilgrim, the Joint Staff’s Chief of Joint Enlisted Leader Development. “We are an officer led, NCO-driven organization.”

Building the lethality that Defense Secretary James N. Mattis wants in the military requires a more-educated NCO, able to handle the intricacies of a technologically and politically complex world, Pilgrim said. He has been working closely with Army Command Sgt. Maj. John W. Troxell, the Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

One of only a few hundred enlisted personnel on the Joint Staff, Pilgrim is basing the program on an Army officer internship program. In that program, post-company-command captains come to Washington to study for a year at Georgetown University, then serve a year on the Joint Staff, followed by a year in broadening assignments in other areas.

Sequential Nature

“I like the sequential nature of it,” Pilgrim said. “I didn’t think we needed a degree-awarding program, but we could use the year to provide education in things like Joint-Combined Warfighters’ Seminar, Joint Forces Special Operations Senior Enlisted Academy or other courses that are available in joint [professional military education].”

He added that he also is open to “some exquisite education” aimed at these NCOs, including courses in negotiation strategies, marketing and communications – all courses that would be beneficial to strategic leaders.

The program — with about 10 entrants per year — would also be small enough to tailor courses to individual developmental needs, the chief said.

The course will be open to senior NCOs, and it will build on previous education and experiences. “This would be a great spot to give them this kind of exposure to the interagency and to the Joint Staff and then flow out back into the service or a relevant joint position,” Pilgrim said.

Key to the program will be exchanges with the State Department, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Agency for International Development and others. This would give the NCOs the exposure “outside their tribe,” Pilgrim said.

“This is not a one-day briefing at the U.S. Agency for International Development, it is a job there,” the chief explained. “You have connections there, you work in that culture, you understand how they do business. That can only further interagency cooperation and collaboration in our interconnected world today.”

Continuum of Joint PME

The program falls into the continuum of NCO Joint Professional Military Education, Pilgrim said. He envisions that the service senior enlisted leaders will choose candidates for the program and that the Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman will make the final selections.

“We are always asked the question, ‘What are we doing to prepare the next SEAC?’” Pilgrim said. “We send the top 10 percent of our officers to the Joint Staff. What better place to get that cohort together at an earlier time than here? If we are going to develop and champion joint leader development, we have to start at home. The Joint Staff has to be leading the way.”

The chief said the services have bought into the program, and the State Department and USAID are very interested in having the senior enlisted perspective.

Before the first tranche is chosen, the chief said, he would like to have the structure set up and the internships in place. “Kind of ‘Build it, and they will come,’” he said. “I have advocacy with the SEAC, and we believe this is a great way to innovate in joint leader development.”

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)