NCO Ranks and Positions Explained
SERGEANT MAJOR OF THE ARMY
Established in 1966, the Sergeant Major of the Army (SMA) is the senior enlisted position of the Army. The sergeant major in this position serves as the senior enlisted advisor and consultant to the Chief of Staff of the Army. The SMA provides information on problems affecting enlisted personnel and proposes solutions to these problems concerning standards, professional development, growth and advancement of NCOs, morale, training, pay, promotions and quality of life for soldiers and family members.
Using command information channels, the SMA keeps soldiers current on important NCO issues and through the public media informs the American people of the Army mission, soldiers’ accomplishments and future enlisted trends. The SMA directs NCO support channel activities through the major commands’ CSMs by using written and verbal communications. The SMA also presents the enlisted viewpoint to Congress, DA boards and committees, meets with military and civilian organizations to discuss enlisted affairs, and receives and represents Army enlisted personnel at appropriate ceremonies.
COMMAND SERGEANT MAJOR AND SERGEANT MAJOR
The Command Sergeant Major is the senior NCO of the command at battalion or higher levels. The CSM carries out policies and standards on performance, training, appearance and conduct of enlisted personnel. The CSM gives advice and initiates recommendations to the commander and staff in matters pertaining to enlisted personnel. A unit, installation, or higher headquarters CSM directs the activities of that NCO support channel. The support channel functions orally through the CSMs or first sergeant’s call and normally does not involve written instruction. The CSM administers the unit Noncommissioned Officer Development Program (NCODP), normally through written directives and the NCO support channel. As the senior NCO of the command, the CSM is the training professional within the unit, overseeing and driving the entire training program. The CSM assists the commander in determining leader tasks and training for NCOs.
The CSM and commander jointly coordinate and develop the unit’s Mission Essential Task List (METL) and individual training tasks to create a team approach to battle-focused training. The CSM and NCO leaders then select the specific individual tasks, which support each collective task to be trained during this same period. CSMs use command information channels to inform, express concerns on enlisted issues and build esprit. They also represent the commander at military and civilian functions to maintain good community relations.
The Sergeant Major is often the key enlisted member of the staff elements at battalion and higher levels. The sergeant major’s experience and ability are equal to that of the unit command sergeant major, but leadership influence is generally limited to those directly under their charge. The sergeant major is a subject matter expert in his technical field, primary advisor on policy development, analytical reviewer of regulatory guidance and often fulfills the duties of the command sergeant major in his absence. Sergeants major also serve in non-staff and leadership positions such as Special Forces Team Sergeant Major, instructor at the Sergeants Major Academy or as the State Senior Enlisted Advisor.
FIRST SERGEANT AND MASTER SERGEANT
The First Sergeant is the senior NCO in companies, batteries and troops. The position of first sergeant is similar to that of the CSM in importance, responsibility and prestige. As far back as the Revolutionary War period, first sergeants have enforced discipline, fostered loyalty and commitment in their soldiers, maintained duty rosters and made morning reports to their company commanders. Since today’s first sergeants maintain daily contact with and are responsible for training and ensuring the health and welfare of all of the unit’s soldiers and families, this position requires extraordinary leadership and professional competence.
First sergeants hold formations, instruct platoon sergeants and assist the commander in daily unit operations. Though first sergeants supervise routine administrative duties their principle duty is training soldiers. The CSM, first sergeant and other key NCOs, must understand the organization’s collective mission essential tasks during METL-based training. Through NCO development programs, performance counseling and other guidance, first sergeants are the Army’s most important mentors in developing subordinate NCOs.
The Master Sergeant serves as the principle NCO in staff elements at battalion or higher levels. Although not charged with the enormous leadership responsibilities of the first sergeant, the master sergeant dispatches leadership and executes other duties with the same professionalism as the first sergeant.
PLATOON SERGEANT AND SERGEANT FIRST CLASS
While “Platoon Sergeant” is a duty position, not a rank, the platoon sergeant is the primary assistant and advisor to the platoon leader, with the responsibility of training and caring for soldiers. The platoon sergeant helps the commander to train the platoon leader and in that regard has an enormous effect on how that young officer perceives NCOs for the rest of his career. The platoon sergeant takes charge of the platoon in the absence of the platoon leader. As the lowest level senior NCO involved in the company METL, platoon sergeants teach collective and individual tasks to soldiers in their squads, crews or equivalent small units.
The Sergeant First Class (SFC), may serve in a position subordinate to the platoon sergeant or may serve as the NCO in charge (NCOIC) of the section with all the attendant responsibilities and duties of the platoon sergeant. A platoon sergeant or sergeant first class generally has extensive military experience and can make accurate decisions in the best interest of the mission and the soldier.
Utilizing tough, realistic and intellectually and physically challenging performance-oriented training to excite and motivate soldiers, the platoon sergeant ensures Army standards are met and maintained. Additionally, the platoon sergeant must conduct cross training to promote critical wartime skills within the unit, evaluate the effectiveness of the platoon and provide training feedback to the commander and first sergeant during After-Action Reviews (AAR) on all unit collective training.
SQUAD, SECTION AND TEAM LEADERS
Staff Sergeants, Sergeants and Corporals are normally squad, section and team leaders and are a critical link in the NCO channel. These NCOs live and work with their soldiers every day and are responsible for their health, welfare and safety. These squad, section and team leaders ensure that their soldiers meet standards in personal appearance and teach them to maintain and account for their individual and unit equipment and property. The NCO enforces standards and develops and trains soldiers daily in MOS skills and unit missions.
The NCO teaches individual and collective training, develops unit cohesion, fosters the values of loyalty and commitment and builds spirit and confidence. The NCO evaluates performance oriented training and through coaching and counseling grooms young soldiers for future positions of increased responsibility. Squad, section and team leaders teach everything from the making of sound and timely decisions to physical training to ethics and values. You, corporals and sergeants, are the basic trainer of today’s soldiers.