NCOs: Unprecedented challenges, effective leading

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Shannon Bowman
  • 6th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- In the profession of arms, the noncommissioned officer is often considered to be the backbone of the force. NCOs, being technical experts themselves, are entrusted to develop, lead, manage and mentor subordinate troops as front-line supervisors.

During a recent virtual town hall meeting, Chief Master Sgt. Ramón Colón-López, the Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff called for NCOs and petty officers to be “the calm in the eye of the storm” as the armed services confront the coronavirus pandemic.

“NCOs must be the conduits of truthful, correct and timely information to troops and their families,” said Colón-López. “This is critical to ensure that people's minds are at ease.”

The Airman’s journey to the NCO tier begins with Airman Leadership School, where over the course of six weeks, the Air Force’s newest supervisors are trained and prepared to lead.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to alter the normal operating environment of the Air Force, so too is the role of the NCO, and according to Master Sgt. Matthew Orlando, the 6th Force Support Squadron ALS commandant, because much of the force is teleworking, it is more important than ever for NCOs to stay connected to their Airmen.

“You can still supervise from afar, so don’t allow distance working to be an excuse keeping you from being the supervisor our Airmen need,” said Orlando. “It’s really easy to overlook our Airmen when we don’t see them every day, but by reaching out regularly you can get to know them just as you would under normal working conditions.”

This pandemic has forced NCOs to deal with the unprecedented changes. Supervisors must realize that not everyone is going to thrive in this work environment, but honesty and transparency can be key to helping their troops cope through this difficult time.

“Be genuine and don’t just pretend that everything is perfect,” said Staff Sgt. Marissa Nelson a 6th FSS ALS instructor. “We will all struggle through this challenge at one point or another, so be honest about your struggles and encourage your subordinates to be honest about theirs.”

Although the coronavirus has shifted the dynamic in which NCOs and their subordinates interact, this period has served as a learning curve on how to effectively communicate and to build relationships.

“When you are working on developing your supervisor-subordinate relationship, legitimately get to know the person you are supervising,” said Tech. Sgt. Shawna Wise, a 6th FSS ALS instructor. “It is so much easier to supervise someone that trusts you; it pays dividends to get to know your troops.”

For the noncommissioned officer, the COVID-19 pandemic is a new adversary bringing new obstacles to the battlefield. As they always do, NCOs will continue to adjust their role and provide leadership and direction to the troops they supervise.

“Maintaining our global competitive edge requires us to stay flexible,” said Wise. “Be humble enough to change course if there is a better path that becomes available to you and your people. Remember that we are a warfighting force. Our job is to be able to adapt rapidly to meet the demands of keeping our country safe.”