Commentary: Rank of NCO carries great deal of responsibility

By Chief Master Sgt. Matthew Caruso: 27th SOW Command Chief

I am not convinced we are doing our best when it comes to non-commissioned officer leadership. I say “we” because, like all senior non-commissioned officers, I am an NCO at the core. Both the staff sergeant and tech sergeant chevrons reside within the master sergeant, senior master sergeant and chief master sergeant chevrons. When you look it from this perspective, it’s important to realize that as NCOs, we represent each other in our words and actions. If a young staff sergeant makes a mistake and embarrasses his unit and himself with poor behavior, it reflects poorly on all NCOs. Likewise, if a chief master sergeant dishonors the uniform, it embarrasses all NCOs. Our young airmen normally do not distinguish between a NCO and SNCO when it comes to poor behavior and bad performance. In contrast however, when we exemplify and enforce standards, they marvel at and appreciate all the great things we NCOs do for the Air Force and our mission.

The time has come to think long and hard about what it means to be an NCO in our Air Force, and more specifically, in Air Force Special Operations Command. As NCOs, we are responsible for so much of the unit’s success. We are required to be the very best and most experienced technicians. We must connect with our airmen and be involved in their lives both on and off duty. When is the last time you read AFI 36-2618, The Enlisted Force Structure? I go back to it often to help me stay on the right path when things get hectic around me. I am not asking every NCO to change the world. However, if each NCO at Cannon Air Force Base takes more pride in his or her unit and airmen and demonstrates increased professionalism in daily duties, many of our “people problems” will simply go away. Then we can get back to concentrating on the mission and taking better care of each other — serving each other. After all, the origin of the word sergeant means “to serve” or “one who serves.”

Remember, you earned the promotion to the NCO and SNCO corps. You accepted the rank and all the responsibilities that come along with it. Whether it’s a promotion to staff sergeant or chief master sergeant, you have an inherent and statutory responsibility to carry out your duties with excellence. If you violate your commitment, the Air Force can and should hold you accountable.

In my opinion, there have been too many alcohol-related and other negative incidents involving NCOs. For all the great things our NCOs do on this base do, there are about 10 percent who bring dishonor to our ranks. We are simply better than this. My goal in fixing this problem is to infuse pride and professionalism into our NCO corps at Cannon. I will work night and day to explain, demonstrate and enforce our standards and hold those who violate them accountable for their actions.

After my initial feedback as the 27th Special Operations Group superintendent, my boss, Col. Jim Slife, handed me a piece of paper and said, “Chief, in case you’re not sure what we talked about or if you have any doubts about what we expect from NCOs and SNCOs, please remember to read this”.

Title 10, Subtitle D, Chapter 845, Section 8583 reads:

All commanding officers and others in authority in the Air Force are required:

1. To show in themselves a good example of virtue, honor, patriotism, and subordination;

2. To be vigilant in inspecting the conduct of all persons who are placed under their command;

3. To guard against and suppress all dissolute and immoral practices, and to correct, according to the laws and regulations of the Air Force, all persons who are guilty of them; and

4. To take all necessary and proper measures, under the laws, regulations, and customs of the Air Force, to promote and safeguard the morale, the physical well-being, and the general welfare of the officers and enlisted persons under their command or charge.

As NCOs, we are required to perform our duties and carry out orders in line with Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Additionally, the law directs NCOs to perform with precision.

There are airmen eagerly waiting to be part of America’s Air Commando force. For this reason I think each of us should reflect on just how fortunate we are to serve our nation and support and work alongside the world’s finest Special Operations Forces, as we track down those that would do us harm. Every night, our airmen take Special Operations Forces to the front lines and affect strategic change around the globe. We are doing this all from our base here in eastern New Mexico. Be proud. We are executing AFSOC’s mission and building up our base right before your eyes. You, the airmen of Cannon AFB are doing this.

We are making history here and our airmen and our nation expects nothing less than the best. I will be watching and helping Cannon’s NCOs understand what it means to wear the rank of sergeant. I hope you will choose to exemplify the standards expected of all NCOs and lead your airmen well.

It’s been an honor and a privilege to serve in the Air Force and in AFSOC as an NCO. I started out in AFSOC as a tech sergeant and am proof that when you adhere to the principles of excellence, great things and great responsibility come your way. Be professional and humble, enforce standards, always strive to learn more, respect your teammates and demonstrate servant leadership in all you do.

Never forget that I support you and stand ready to help you and your airmen be the best they can be.