‘Smart Defense’ in action for NCOs in today’s AF

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Chris J. Almeria
  • 786th Force Support Squadron Detachment 3 first sergeant
At a recent NATO summit in Chicago, leaders from the world's most successful political-military alliance agreed to embrace the tenets of "Smart Defense" to ensure the alliance can develop, acquire and maintain the capabilities required to meet the goals for a more capable and modernized alliance -- through increasing our respective forces' abilities.

This often flows into talks of new technology, weapons and capabilities -- but what does that looks like at the NCO level?

It's easy and it's on-going: The NCO leadership in multinational environment courses are aimed at not just improving an NCO's abilities and knowledge on the national level, but making them a better international NCO, ready to be a more effective leader in an multinational environment.

These courses are fully accredited by NATO and focus on five main areas: leadership, counseling, communication, ethics and NATO orientation -- all with a focus on operating in a multinational environment, and are taught at the senior, E-8 and E-9, and intermediate, E-6 and E-7, levels.

As such, I recently had the special honor and privilege of returning as a guest instructor to the course in Lucerne, Switzerland to help lead 28 students from 15 allied and partner nations over two weeks of extensive classroom work and field exercises, putting the theories and academics into action under stressful conditions, and always with a multinational focus and team make up.

We promote a lot of interaction in and out of class -- all the way down to mixed billet arrangements so roommates always come from another nation to underscore and promote the importance of understanding cultural diversity and the impact that has on thinking and operating.

For nearly all of my students, this was their first introduction into the Persolog "DISC"R personality profiles -- one of our longest lessons, taught over the first two days, but perhaps the most important.

Communicating with others across language and cultural barriers is a little easier when you know the type of person you are communicating with, and you are able to quickly assess and tailor your approach to be a more effective communicator.

As leaders, we all become more effective when we understand what motivates our teams and find the best way to communicate with them -- any boss can demand compliance and be successful in the short term -- we aim to give our students the tools to generate enthusiasm and be successful and effective over the long term, and this tool proves very useful in this regard.

Some of our allies and partner nations come from a very different point of view when it comes to dealing with people, and getting everyone harmonized on what works best in a multinational environment is not an easy task. Moving forward in an area of austerity and trying to maximize all of our resources we all understand that people are our most important resource -- this is true whether you are an American Airman, a Dutch sailor or a Kazak paratrooper.

The class dynamics are amazing -- it doesn't take more than the first few hours on the first day to realize that viewpoints are usually dictated by one's upbringing and culture -- and we had no shortage of differences on topics such as gays in the military, a current major topic for the U.S., but a non-news item for several of our allies.

Conversely, the role of women in the military is a non-issue for the U.S., but a major topic for others. Rules of engagement, the Law of Armed Conflict, counseling and stress management -- we all recognize a need to educate and help ensure there is a true level of understanding among all of our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines on these important topics, but how do we do that effectively in a multinational environment when working closely with other nations?

These courses give students a way forward, by giving them a chance to do critically important things like counseling those from other nations in practice to get those "first time jitters" out of the way and provide helpful, constructive feedback. Some of our students are already in important leadership roles, giving advice and influencing those around them, and many are leading younger enlisted service members from around our alliance.

The problems of tomorrow promise to be more complex, more dangerous and more trans-national then the previous generation of "simple" problems. To be effective in preserving democracy and our way of life, we must be able to work well with our neighbors, friends, allies and partners. Not just at the Ministerial level, but at the level that is the backbone of each of our forces: the NCO level.

We have a lot of experience throughout our partner nations, and getting all of us to become an even better team is one of the best investments for taxpayers not just in the U.S., but throughout our nations. These courses are unmatched in their abilities in preparing today's enlisted leaders to lead and succeed in a multinational environment and they are a must for those coming into and operating in diverse environments.

I would encourage leadership to look at these courses for your NCOs who may be coming into the NATO environment to help them become highly effective in a much different atmosphere then what most Airmen are used to operating in.

Smart Defense is not just about new weapons platforms and better technology -- it is also about our ability to effectively communicate, form and lead successful teams at the NCO level. To have a part in working toward this goal is a tremendous honor.

I have added more Wingmen I can call on, as they have earned one in me -- fulfilling our goal of giving our students a value added education and more tools to be effective leaders.