Leaders and mentors in a professional army

Maj P at OpFor has a post up about Gunny D’s Retirement:

Gunny D was in my old reserve unit, a Marine artillery battery. I was there for about seven years; he was there for his entire career. As we all wax nostalgic at events like that, I started thinking about some things.

His particular stamp can be seen all across the gunline

Gunny D’s retirement was the end of an era for that unit. He was the only Marine still there who had been there when they were mobilized and sent to the Gulf War. They had their share of excitement in that 100-hour war; a full-on fight with Iraqi armor (with small arms and their M198s in direct fire), several Marines wounded, one killed. That was before my time, but apparently Gunny D was one of the star performers even as a junior NCO.

Fast-forward to February 1995. 1stLt P steps aboard, eager to restart his artillery career after a rocky active duty tour. SSgt D, no longer a junior Marine in any sense, is a platoon sergeant and his particular stamp can be seen all across the gunline. As well as training his section chiefs and his cannoneers, Gunny D also trained a 1stLt! Later when I rose through the officer ranks and eventually became CO, Gunny D was the rock on which we founded and re-founded the battery.

First of all, hats off to a fine American who served us well. Second of all, Major P’s post sheds a little light onto what makes volunteer professional fighting forces so capable as compared to conscript armies and irregular bands of warriors. At his retirement ceremony, Gunny D spoke of two 1stSgts who had “formed him and trained him”, and Major P thinks that in fifteen years there will be another retiring Marine who speaks of Gunny D in the same way.

That’s how traditions and discipline are handed down, folks.

Now, this wouldn’t be Murdoc Online if I didn’t try to tie such stories to the current war, so here it is:

Armies don’t reach “high levels of competence” without a solid NCO corps.

Many have criticized the fact that the Iraqi Army was disbanded after the overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime, and for a long time criticism was quite loud concerning the progress of the “new” Iraqi military and security forces.

Lately, that criticism has been far less noisy, you may have noticed. And Iraqi military units have been getting a lot more mentions in stories about operations. Many times it’s the Iraqi units operating more or less on their own. Here are a few recent AFIS headlines:

That just goes back six days. There have been a lot more. This indicates pretty clearly that the Iraqi forces are stepping it up in many areas, and this, in turn, indicates that they’re reaching high levels of competence in significant numbers.

Armies don’t reach “high levels of competence” without a solid NCO corps. I do not think that it’s a coincidence that Major P held Gunny D in such high esteem. I do not think that it’s a coincidence that Gunny D held two 1stSgts in such high esteem. Sergeants form the backbone of every professional army.

The NCOs in Saddam’s army were not (for the most part, anyway) professional soldiers in anything but name. Many of those who hadn’t been given their rank and position as a family favor bribed their way into it. They were often nothing more than thug enforcers, concerned mostly with intimidating their troops and the local populace into submission. That’s not what we wanted, so we scrapped the whole thing and started over.

I wrote in December:

Building the new Iraqi army has been a long and slow process (well, relative to expectations, anyway) but it is beginning to really pay dividends. The focus for many units is no longer getting fully-formed or even gaining combat experience. They’ve reached the point where they’re beginning to grow into mature military organizations. The recruits have gained personal experience and been promoted when appropriate, which is a lot different than simply assigning someone to a leadership position because of his non-military experience or his rank in the old Iraqi army.

Competence among the sergeants is what will set the new Iraqi army apart from most other Arab armies.

The value of the professional training and personal experience has probably paid off the most at the NCO level. This level of competence among the sergeants is what will set the new Iraqi army apart from most other Arab armies.

Make no mistake. The Iraqi army is still (and will always be) vastly inferior to the US military. But they have made great strides and will continue to do so as the NCO corps matures and traditions are formed and passed down.

See also:


  1. I saw first hand how completely worthless the officer and NCO corps of the old Iraqi Army was. Starting from scratch was probably the right answer.

  2. A professional NCO corp is something the Iraqi Army never had before. It is the difference between a rable and an Army…

  3. My Battalion’s position became the dump point for all captured Iraqi prisoners in the Gulf War for the 1st Marine Div. We separated the Officers from Enlisted. We would have separated the NCO’s also, but you could rarely identify anyone as an NCO. Looking over the sea of thousands of prisoners we were holding, none were working to keep their people in line, maintain morale, or help the wounded. No Leadership. The Officers were worse – their feelings toward the enlisted went beyond indifference to complete distain. Any army not composed of peasants who had been oppressed for a lifetime would have killed these people as soon as they got live ammo.