Harlan Kefalas is an enlisted paratrooper in the United States Army and is passionate about improving the NCO Corps. He deployed to Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan and also served as a drill sergeant. He works at innovating the Department of Defense from within as part of the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum. His views and opinions expressed are his alone and do not reflect the official position or policy of the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.
On Jan. 1, 2016, the U.S. Army rolled out a new Noncommissioned Officer Evaluation Report, or NCOER, to replace the one the service had used to rate enlisted leader performance since the late 1980s. Needless to say, it was a long-overdue upgrade. But it should have been only a first step.
On May 19, 2004, anti-coalition forces attacked a U.S. military convoy on the northern outskirts of Samarra, Iraq — a routine resupply mission my platoon made at least twice a week. Those of us back on Forward Operating Base Mackenzie quickly learned we had a KIA, but we didn’t know who. We waited in silence, wondering which one of our friends would not be coming back. Eventually, we saw the silhouette of our platoon sergeant trudging toward us across the loose gravel between the tactical operations center and our platoon that slowed all movement. He knew the name. As he got closer, we could see the tears streaming down his face. “Campbell” was all he said. Michael Campbell, a real cowboy who the year before shared Christmas dinner with my family, died that day.
During an U.S. Army town hall meeting on March 30, Sgt. Maj. Michael Gragg, the command sergeant major of the Center for Initial Military Training, presented the audience with an embarrassing statistic: Of the handful of soldiers recently tested on the use of the M40-series protective mask, only less than half knew how to wear it properly. This isn’t rocket science: It’s one of the most fundamental tasks soldiers are expected to perform upon graduating basic training.
U.S. Air Force Photo by Airman 1st Class Preston Cherry.
Though “innovation” has been a buzzword for a long time, recently it has become the a real point of emphasis for the Department of Defense. The Defense Innovation Unit Experimental, known as DIUx, started in Silicon Valley and is now open in Boston. Commissioned officers have caught on, and terms like "disruptive thinking" and "innovation" appear more frequently in professional conversations. However, noncommissioned officers remain on the outside, looking in. NCOs can sometimes be reluctant to innovate or champion someone else’s idea, when their evaluation ratings impact promotion. An idea's failure can lead to a poor rating, which may result in separation.
In early 2015, I was reading up on military leadership and came across an interesting article by Joe Byerly, a U.S. Army armor officer, on his personal blog, From the Green Notebook, about self-development in the military.