Strengthening the Backbone : Education for the Strategic Senior Appointed CPO1/CWO and NATO Command Senior Enlisted Leader

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By CPO 1 Oake
Senior Appointment Programme (SAP)
September 12, 2022

1. Why was General Eisenhower chosen to be the SACEUR for WWII? There are a considerable number of opinions that indicate he was chosen over Patton and Montgomery because he had a proven track record of being able to work with some of the most difficult personalities both British and American, and keep them working together. Some say it was how he was groomed for the position, and he understood the political aspect of the war and policies that would follow. On paper General Patton looked like the better General, he was a fantastic field General and tactician, but General Eisenhower possessed stronger diplomatic skills. This was later proven when he arguably became one of the most successful presidents of the United States. Non Commissioned Officers have always been relied upon to advise officers at the tactical and operational levels and later on at the strategic levels. Training and experience have always served as the cornerstones of sound grounded advice. In the complex and constantly changing global environment in which the Canadian Armed Forces are constantly more integrated within the NATO alliance, those two revered qualities must be adapted to the ever growing needs of officers. As such, it becomes necessary for NCO’s to possess the education and understanding of strategic doctrine and policy and they must be “groomed” for this environment. For this discussion, when referring to senior NCM’s or Senior Appointed NCM’s I will use the more generic term of Snr NCO’s.

2. Although one could argue that senior NCO’s advising at the tactical and operational level are mostly prepared, based on years of tactical and operations experience, there is a significant difference between operating and advising within a strategic environment than within the operational and tactical levels. If we then view this argument from a NATO standpoint, it adds another layer complexity. Although understanding national strategic doctrine and policy will obviously be beneficial within an international NATO alliance, there will also exist the national strategic policies of 29 other nations. Notwithstanding a diverse European culture that carries its own share of complexities and military doctrine. To do so, Senior Appointed CPO1/CWO’s required to advise and operate in a strategic environment require a significant period of time to develop. But when it comes to preparing CPO1/CWO’s for this specific level, the CAF development model doesn’t seem to adequately prepare CPO1/CWOs for the employment with a strategic environment. As such, we have a specific question: What is the role of SA/KP CPO1/CWO in adapting CAF NCOPD to the ever-evolving complexity of strategic roles, environment and employment within NATO context.

3. To answer this question, this paper will be divided in two sections. Through an empirical study in which we will interview several actors at NATO level, we will analyse how NATO operational Commands are influencing the strategic level, and how the CAF is adapting its NCOPD to this every evolving environment. To do so, we will discuss this question with Command Senior Enlisted leader CWO Lance Dunn, of Joint Force Command Brunssum, and Command Senior Enlisted Leader, SGM Juergen Stark of Joint Force Command Naples. Finally, we will analyse their answers using the CF effectiveness framework from the internal integration dimension, and asks how/what is the role of SA/KP CPO1/CWO in improving NCOPD.

Section 1: NCO PD in NATO context

The current retention strategies in place to support the requirements of the CAF are insufficient as indicated by the current HR crisis faced across all elements and at all levels of command. A deeper look at the Defence Policy initiatives, with a comparison of the effectiveness dimensions in the roles and responsibilities of CF Leaders and a detailed look at the roles of our KP/SA CPO1/CWO corps is required to determine how to improve our business.


4. NATO defines a Senior NCO (CPO1/CWO’s) in the Non-Commissioned Officer Professional Military Education Reference Curriculum, as the “Command Senior Enlisted Leader (CSEL)”; A CSEL is the highest ranking non-commissioned officer (NCO) within a unit or formation. The primary function of a CSEL is to provide advice and support to the commander and his/her staff, drawing on the CSEL’s unique understanding of and access to the rank and file.Footnote 1 As such, the NCO PD program has to be careful not to teach NCO’s to think like officers; lest we run the risk of becoming no value added. On the other hand if we do not educate NCOs to advise/operate within a strategic environment they will have no choice but to emulate the actions/opinions/thoughts of their Commanding Officer and once again become no value added. This latter statement can be compounded if their Commanding Officer is also not prepared for the strategic environment. When discussing the Strategic Level, it is important to define what that term actually refers to from a military perspective. Duty with Honour: The Profession of Arms in Canada, defines the Strategic Level as “The level at which a nation or group of nations determines national of multinational security objectives and deploys national, including military, resources to achieve them.”Footnote 2 Duty with Honour further states, “Future CF operations will demand both Institutional and Operational leaders with increased situational awareness, enhanced cognitive skill sets, and more comprehensive understanding of strategic level context”Footnote 3

5. Just as the Canadian Forces continues to undertake comprehensive transformation, so too must the roles and responsibilities of the Chief Petty Officer First Class/Chief Warrant Officer — the custodian of the profession of arms in Canada. The increasingly complex operating environment demands that the CF redefine and expand the “strategic level” roles of selected CPO1/CWOs in order to optimize their contribution to operational and institutional leadership.Footnote 4 However, the complexity of the emerging strategic environment has accelerated the demand for the CF to generate leaders with enhanced critical thinking abilities.Footnote 5 That is basically how Canada is approaching the topic of Senior Appointed CPO1/CWO’s. It also states “Making the transition from the tactical and operational levels to the strategic level can be a major challenge for a new CSEL. She/he are no longer a “trade specific” NCO, but an advisor to commanders on more complex issues which have over-arching effects and consequences on all ranks and trades. If we look at the equivalent role as defined in a NATO context; a CSEL can be expected to have comprehensive understanding of the following issues: defence and security policies and processes, leading the institution, civil-military relations, goals and structures of national and international bodies, and world affairs.”Footnote 6 Once again in Beyond Transformation, section 1.3 Challenge, states that CPO1/CWO’s are required to be experts at their core competencies. It also states that the “complexity of the emerging strategic environment has accelerated the demand for the CF to generate leaders with enhanced critical thinking abilities. So what does that actually mean “critical thinking abilities” does it infer a necessity to be critical or sceptical of decisions or policy or does it refer to one’s ability to question all aspects of a situation, policy, and problem, to question one’s own views as to not develop a biased approach through developing selective perceptions or preconceived value judgements. In order to ensure we are developing our core competencies we have to first determine/discuss what competencies are required for Senior Appointed/Command Senior Enlisted Strategic Leaders. I think without question the most important core competencies of a Strategic CSEL is “desire/motivation”, do he/she want to be at the strategic level, but accompanying that is “why”? Do they want to be in the position of the CSEL or do they want to “be” the CSEL and there is considerable difference. I am highlighting “desire/motivation” because based on my own personal experiences and my discussions/research for this paper I think it is a critical component if not the most critical component of developing strategic leadership, especially given the current NCOPD education model which may require significant self-sacrifice for personal development.

6. In the article, More than a Given: Professionalizing Military Strategic Leadership, it states, “there is no question that leadership is foundational to the “profession of arms”. Yet the Services treat leadership at senior ranks as a “given” based upon the results of an officer’s success at the tactical level. Certainly, as officers progress up through the ranks to senior leadership positions, some of the skills required to be successful are, in fact, transferrable from their tactical leadership experiences. Many of the leadership skills necessary to lead organizations successfully at the senior levels, however, are entirely new.Footnote 7 Specifically, the “soft skills” of strategic leadership, such as sensitivity, creativity, conceptualization, verbal reasoning and communication, empathy, and spontaneity are needed to lead in the current and future global security environment.Footnote 8 Althogh the authors of this statement were referring to officers, this can also be directly related to the other member of the Senior Strategic Leadership Team, the CSEL. We have to remember the CSEL is there to advise the Commander therefore the development of soft skills will be critical to success in a NATO environment. Not only will the CSEL be expected to advise on international policy and objectives they will require the ability to adapt and communicate across different cultures while remaining objective and not mistaking misunderstanding for indifference. ng for indifference.

Section 2: Dimension

7. Everyone I speak to or everything I have read that discusses the need for a professional NCO corps the one common topic/theme is “NCO’s are the Backbone of the Armed Forces”. Well, what is a backbone? The Webster- Meriam dictionary gives one definition as; “the foundation or most substantial or sturdiest part of something”Footnote 9. So if that is the definition then what is its purpose? The website, article entitled “The importance of a Backbone” states; “The function of our backbone is to keep our body upright, cushion the blows our body may take from above, below, left and right. It holds our heads straight and is composed of many nerve cells that respond to certain stimuli.”Footnote 10 Personally, I cannot think of a better definition and explanation that can better explain the role of the professionally trained, NCO Corp or “Backbone”. The NCO’s are the most substantial part of any military, they comprise the greatest numbers and they are without a doubt the sturdiest part, they are the “armour “or the “backbone” of the NATO Alliance. Then, if we look at the above explanation of the function of the “Backbone”, and compare it to the Senior Appointed CPO1/CWO/CSEL we can begin to understand our role and why we need to continue the push for the right education. The role of the Senior NCO at the Strategic level is to keep our institution upright, ensuring the posture of our corps is correct. As stewards of the institution, they are entrusted to protect it from the impact of ill-advised decisions, polices, practices and individuals that may come from above, below, left and right. Then last but not least, they are entrusted to keep the head straight, ensuring the leadership, or, if you like the brain that is commanding the remainder of the body into action at the strategic level is protected and orientated in the right direction, through sound, informed and educated advice.

8. So, now that we have discussed what a Senior Appointed CPO1/CWO/CSEL is let’s revisit our question: What is the role of SA/KP CPO1/CWO in adapting CAF NCOPD to the ever-evolving complexity of strategic roles, environment and employment within NATO context. If we look at this question through the lens of the Canadian Armed Forces Effectiveness Framework and then from the component of “Internal Integration”, how do it translate to role of a SA/KP CPO1/CWO. Before we move on to “the role”, what are we referring to when we say Internal Integration?

9. The publication “Leadership in the Canadian Armed Forces Doctrine”, describes internal integration as “reflects a concern for the internal organization and stability of military units, systems, and the CF. More specifically, internal integration refers to the co-ordination of in-house functions and processes and the achievement of teamwork and cohesion among the people who make up a unit or organization. As stated in Conceptual Foundations: “As a system manager, the leader must ensure that various support systems of the organization function as a coordinated and integrated whole, while ensuring that the effectiveness and efficiency of all systems are periodically evaluated to determine their utility and efficiency”Footnote 11

10. As it pertains to internal integration, it means that NCOPD must be adapted to the evolution of the institution. If we are discussing NCOPD development then what are we are referring to? Is it the totality of formal education that is learned over a career, think of building blocks if you will, where you need a solid foundation, then each block added supports the following block resulting in a complete learning structure. Does it mean from a professional development standpoint, that “formal education” is just one building block in the totality of career “educational” experience and those are the “parts that must work together”. Or, does it mean that internal integration of NCOPD is just one building block in the structure that makes up the Canadian Armed Forces as a whole, and without a Professional Educated NCO Corps the entirety of “the parts (the CAF), will not work together”. If we think of this last statement, then what is our role? This is where I believe the first part of the Internal Integration definition in “Leadership in the Canadian Armed Forces Doctrine” pinpoints our role! “Reflects a concern for the internal organization and stability of military units, systems, and the CF”. As Senior Appointed CPO1/CWO’s it is our role, duty, obligation to reflect a concern for professional development to lead in the development of our own education. Although Canada has made significant improvement with regards to educating and professionalizing our NCO Corps, it is imperative that we never lose focus on what was written in Beyond Transformation: The CPO1/CWO Strategic Employment Model, “Innovation, agility and critical thinking will continue to be essential qualities of CF leaders. The CF must not remain static. The emerging reality is far less predictable than that of the past.”Footnote 12 The CF must not remain static! This must be our creed for advocating for NCO professional development! This document, which was endorsed by our Chief of Defence Staff, was intended to serve as the roadmap for NCO development, it did not state operational employment nor tactical employment in the title, it stated “Strategic Employment”.

Section 3: Analysis

11. As senior NCM’s we must take control of our destinies, it is imperative that we and we alone determine what’s “required NCO education”. Is it the degree we need, is it subjects found within a degree, do we require a more structured learning environment similar to the US NCO Academies? We have to determine what does the situation require? Personally, I believe that a degree does not have to be the focus of a strong NCO Professional Development model, but in the words of CWO Lance Dunn “it can be a substantial by product”Footnote 13. CWO Kevin Mathers, the current Command Senior Enlisted Leader of NATO Land Command, is about to be appointed as the Allied Command Operations Senior Enlisted leader, the most senior Non-Commission Officer position in NATO. This is the first time a member of the Canadian Armed Forces has been appointed to that position. Never before, have we had a better opportunity to understand the future challenges of senior appointed CPO1/CWO’s at the international strategic level, we need to draw on his experience and that of service members like CWO Dunn. We need to take a holistic look at how we are preparing our SA/KP CPO1/CWO’s to determine can we meet the present and future challenges of strategic environment. Career Management/Succession Management and the Professional Development Council must work together to identify the people, required breath of experience and corresponding education. We have CPO1/CWO’s who, through admirable goals of self-development obtained the necessary skill sets and tools that are required at these levels. We must learn from them, lets replace the current need for self-development, with the requirement of professional development. Not every CPO1/CWO will obtain a position in a strategic environment, nor will every CPO1/CWO have the desire for strategic leadership, but educating our NCM’s with a strategic vision in mind will improve leadership at every level and deepen the pool of candidates for higher levels of leadership and benefit the Canadian Armed Forces as a whole.

12. How does NCOPD affect the overall dimension of operating at the Strategic level? During my research I spoke and interviewed several experienced senior NCO’s, OR-9 LevelFootnote 14 (CPO1/CWO Equivalent) to use the NATO rank structure designated in “NATO STANAG 2116 - NATO Codes for grades of military personnel”. I asked each one a series of questions relating to NCOPD, civilian education and preparedness to move to the higher strategic levels of leadership within national and international environments. I would like to briefly focus on some points provided by NATO Joint Forces Command (JFC) Naples, Command Senior Enlisted Leader, SGM Juergen Stark (GER-A) and NATO Joint Forces Command Brunssum, Command Senior Enlisted Leader, CWO Dunn (CAN-A). Although SGM Stark and CWO Dunn are at the NATO Operational level, they are paired with a 4 Star General and they are influencing at the strategic level. When I asked them to describe from National and International perspectives if their NCOPD model had prepared them to assume the role of CSEL for JFC Naples/Brunssum, their responses were somewhat similar but also quite different. For SGM Stark, from a national Standpoint “No” the German military NCOPD system did not prepare him, he even stated we should not have the JFC Naples CSEL position because they do not have a CSEL system in their military. From an international perspective he did state that his time at the US Sgt Maj’s academy had helped him considerably, he said the academy had a very good 11 month curriculum that was very responsive to feedback and constantly evolving, he also stated the added value of spending a further 3 years at the academy as an instructor where he had the benefit of interacting with many American CSEL’s so he got to see how they did business. The rest was learning by doing, when he arrived he had a lot to read, a lot to learn, and he spent a considerable amount time learning what NATO was and what NATO was doing. Having said that with his tenure coming to an end this summer, in his opinion he was very indeed very successful as the CSEL of JFC Naples. He did point out that no matter how great an education system is, even the one we currently have in Canada, some people are not made for a job like this. He also informed me that even the CSEL program currently taught at NATO School Oberammergau that he had also attended provided him no benefit. Stating that a course specifically designed to help prepare an NCO for the operational, strategic level provided no benefit, is a powerful condemnation of a professional development strategy. When I asked CWO Dunn the same question he said from an education point of view, he felt he was well prepared. His education involved personal learning through RMC, University of Manitoba and CAF leadership courses. Although, he did state that he had been taking a significant amount of coursing on his own over his career, but this should not be the norm – “they should train us”. For him the biggest challenge was the experience component of preparation. He went from working for a LCol at the unit level to working with a 4 Star General at the highest operational level in NATO. He said although he possessed a strong breath of experience it was only really within the Canadian/5 eyes domain and operating/advising with an international environment was completely different. I believe CWO Dunn’s experience and answers carry considerable weight, and his response clearly identifies the requirement for more discussion and analysis of working in this environment. I posed the following question; Do you think being professionally successful at the operational or tactical level will ensure that you will be successful at the strategic level? CWO Dunn; “At the operational and strategic level, it is rare for the commanding officer / commander to be unprepared. At this level for officers, we are talking about 2 star generals/admirals and they do not get there in the Canadian system without being proficient. The risk is absolutely on the NCM level, where if we are not value added immediately, we will be pushed aside/marginalized, and will not be able to contribute to the security of our nation at the highest levels. Being able to be effective at this level requires a much better understanding of emotional intelligence and critical thinking because you are often dealing with external organizations. The “grumpy Sgt Maj” does not work well when speaking with senior public servants, politicians or foreign senior officers, but can be very effective in combat at the tactical level.”Footnote 15 Although, their answers were quite different, the common denominator from both of these CSEL’s clearly shows how education was a key contributor for preparation and set the stage for them to successfully perform at one of the highest levels of NCM/NCO leadership.

13. As I mentioned previously, I do feel that we have made significant progress with NCOPD but after speaking with several other colleagues at the NATO school, SGM Stark and CWO Dunn, I have found that in order to prepare our Senior Appointed CPO1/CWO’s for strategic international employment we need to place greater emphasis on the skillsets gained through civilian education. The need to be comfortable with topics such as critical thinking, systems thinking, emotional intelligence, political science, anthropology and psychology in my opinion are critical when discussing our future NCOPD. It is not enough to be experienced as a sound tactical/operational leader; you have to learn how to think critically. All were in agreement that although we must be careful to not teach Senior NCO’s to think like officers, none of them felt that their education had shifted their NCO thinking if you will, but it did permit them to develop more informed approaches to policies or decisions. It also allowed them to better understand how their Commanders look at a problem or policy, enabling them to be a more complementing member of the senior leadership team. At the Strategic levels you are no longer just interacting with just military personnel, you are working closely with senior civilian personnel and external government and civilian organizations, it is imperative that you possess the corresponding critical thinking and communication skills. Although not stated in Beyond Transformation: The CPO1/CWO Strategic Employment, one of the goals was to get rid of the “Accidental Chief”, I fully believe the Canadian Armed Forces has been highly successful in achieving that result. The “Accidental Chief” is gone; we have built the strategic employment model, now we have to build the strategic education model. We have to stop looking at our personnel and thinking what do they need and start thinking, what does the situation require? We have to set the conditions of success, where work/life balance can also accommodate an effective education model. If desire/motivation are critical components of strategic leadership then then we should not be pushing our NCO’s to sacrifice precious family time over self-development commitment. If we want the best outcomes then we must build the best plans.

Section 4: Conclusion

14. Why is the NCM Executive Professional Development Program (NEPDP) curriculum not located at the Osside Institute, accommodating (OR-8/OR-9) CPO2/MWO’s and CPO1/CWO’s only? The document, NEPDP Academic Bridging Program 2020-2021, Background, states the following; “The program originated in 2006 as the Knowledge Acquisition Program (KAP) for a small number of CWO/CPO1 who were preparing for strategic appointments in leadership teams with Generals or Flag Officers. From 2011 to 2019 NEPDP objectives broadened to include MWO/CPO2, with the aim of giving a cohort of 15-20 candidates an opportunity for broad cognitive development which would enhance their contribution to a leadership team at unit or formation level, complementing the existing leadership courses supported by the Osside Centre. Candidates completed the requirements for the Certificate of General Military Studies (CGMS), including four mandatory courses at 100-200 level and the option of taking senior courses as electives. This permitted candidates to complete degrees and pursue other certificates in parallel. An increasing number did so.”Footnote 16 So, this document clearly identified the need and it’s proven success. What I think is important is to draw your attention to the fact that it states “preparing for strategic appointments in leadership teams with Generals or Flag Officers” but we are sharing a class with officer cadets. Is it beneficial for the institution if new officers view future Senior Appointed CPO1/CWO’s as classmates or equals even if it is only from an academic perspective? Does this instil trust, establish that CPO1/CWO as leader in the eyes of junior officers? Does it instil a feeling of preparedness for the CPO1/CWO joining a Senior Leadership Team, are we setting the example we want to set? I would argue that we are not! I will once again point out that in, “The CPO1/CWO Strategic Employment Model”; it stated “The CF must not remain static”, so I leave you with these questions? Should we not move the NCM Executive Professional Development Program to the Osside Institute? The institution has already established the need, proven the merits of its success over 15 years, and we, already have an established NCOPD institution. So, isn’t it time we take the next step and have our own fully integrated and accredited education program within our own NCO education institute, which will meet the demands identified in Duty with Honour, “Future CF operations will demand both Institutional and Operational leaders with increased situational awareness, enhanced cognitive skill sets, and more comprehensive understanding of strategic level context.”Footnote 17


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