For much of my six years active duty I had the good fortune because of my usually serving in the command element of various units as a radio operator/driver or a battalion/brigade staff chemical warfare NCO, to work closely with several of the Army’s finest senior NCOs: the first sergeants and sergeant majors.
As Shane says, they run the Army; the officers command but those tough old (relatively speaking: most are in their late thirties to late forties but seem like Methuselahs to their troops) birds who make it to the top of the enlisted ranks are the ones who keep it organized and running with a good ol’ boy network that extends around the world and defies belief.
As a rising young NCO, I was so impressed by these men and the unquestioned authority with which they make this huge military machine hum along that I turned down the opportunity to go to OCS, deciding that if I made the Army my career, I would much prefer to be a command sergeant major than a mid-level officer. However, the extension of the G.I. Bill to cover us Vietnam vets decided my fate instead.
I left the Army to finish college and because of the military stand-down following Vietnam, decided to remain in civilian life. However, I have spent more than thirty years marketing medical products to the military, calling on military installations all over the world. One lesson I have never forgotten and which I still occasionally put to good use is that when confronted with a difficult situation, seek out the senior NCO, preferably a sergeant major, or a Navy master chief, or Air Force chief master sergeant, and a solution will be found. Quickly.
So thanks, Shane, for the tribute to Sergeant Heywood Smith and all the NCOs who make our military what it is. Without question, our celebrated military leaders are the officers who lead our forces. But it is the NCOs who ensure they have forces to lead.
Some truths endure forever.