Leadership: Sergeants Major Who Come Up Short


March 12, 2010: Last year, the U.S. Army reviewed its most senior NCOs, seeking out those who might no longer be able to do the job expected of them. Out of 3,500 (E-9) Sergeants Major, 45 were found wanting, and asked to retire (all had at least twenty years service.) While most complied, fifteen demanded a review by a panel of Sergeants Major, insisting that, despite some blemishes on their records, they were still able to deliver the kind of leadership the army expected. The panel agreed with twelve of these cases, but told the other three E-9s to retire. Thus, in the end, only about one percent of the most senior NCOs were found wanting.

The army had a lot of work to do here, scrutinizing its senior NCO ranks, to see which sergeants are not up to the job. Some 19,000 senior NCOs (3,000 E-9 Sergeants Major, 9,000 E-8 Master Sergeants/First Sergeants and 7,000 E-7 Sergeants First Class/Platoon Sergeants) had their records examined for evidence of poor performance and future problems. This was actually the revival of an existing effort (the Qualitative Management Program, or QMP), that was suspended when Iraq was invaded, and it became clear that the army would need every NCO it could get.

But that often proved to be false economy. QMP was originally established to deal with an ancient problem; senior sergeants who turned bad, but had learned enough about the system to avoid detection or punishment. Anyone who has served in the army in the last century knows of these shady senior NCOs, and learned to fear and avoid them. These rascals were so well known, and even admired, that a popular TV show ("Sergeant Bilko") came along in 1955, featuring a somewhat sanitized version of one of these rogue NCOs.

Based on past experience, the army expects the new review to find that about two percent of the sergeants should be forced to retire, or not allowed to re-enlist (if they have less than 20 years in). Some will be prosecuted, as dozens already have been. The others will get an Honorable Discharge, and keep their retirement benefits.

There were many opportunities for ethically challenged NCOs in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the army finally woke up to the problem, and the cure they already had. The only downside is that some NCOs, who got written up for "doing the right thing" will also get the boot. The army says that it will take situations like this into account.





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