KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - The Army commonly refers to the U.S. Army Non-commissioned Officer Corps as the backbone of the Army because the Army expects them to lead and train younger Soldiers and support and assist their commissioned officers during daily duties and missions.
It is those traits and characteristics that Command Sgt. Maj. Joe Derma, senior enlisted advisor for the Military Advisory Team for Train, Advise and Assist Command-South, wanted to share with the Afghan senior enlisted leaders when he began senior leader huddles back in November of last year.
The command, which is composed of Soldiers from the 40th Infantry Division, California National Guard and 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, focuses on training and assisting Afghan security forces and supporting counterterrorism operations.
"When (the 40th Infantry Division) first got here in October and started working with the Afghan National army I noticed that their NCOs weren't as engaged as our NCOs are in daily tasks," said Derma, a native of Brawley, California."It was then that I knew I wanted to start a program to get (the ANA's) NCOs a similar authority of what our Army's NCOs have."
With a goal in mind, Derma built a team of experienced NCOs from TAAC-South in order to begin meeting with and advising senior Afghan NCOs within the 205th CORP Afghan National Army.
"I have used NCOs from the 40th Infantry Division, the 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, and even from the Security Force Assistance Brigade," said Derma."It really depends what specialty we are covering during our huddles. I want to make sure we have experienced NCOs who can share their knowledge."
So far, Derma and his team have advised on the duties and responsibilities of a first sergeant, command relationships with commissioned officers, operations, logistics and more.
Most importantly, according to Derma, he and his team wanted the Afghan enlisted leaders to understand the importance of the NCOs role in the future of the ANA.
"From my perspective the ANA has great fighters, great NCOs and great officers but there is a gap in the understanding of the role of an NCO," explained Derma."If you want a military for the future you have to have a strong dedicated NCO Corps because our primary responsibility as NCOs is train to Soldiers."
Since the first huddle, Derma said the attendance has grown to at times over 60 senior enlisted leaders in one huddle and they continue an eagerness to learn.
"I (and the other leaders) have learned a lot from the experiences of command sergeant major Derma and his team," said Afghan National army Command Sgt. Maj. Akbari Ghaus, information management senior enlisted leader for the ANA."I like to take notes during the meetings so I can look back at them and use the advice they gave us to train our soldiers better."
Derma said although the road for growth is long, he is proud of how much the ANA NCO Corps has grown since November.
"Before, during meetings and briefs you would see little to no enlisted leaders," Derma explained."Now you see (command sergeant majors) sitting in the front answering questions and giving briefs. It's amazing to be able to witness all this in a short amount of time."
Although the main audience for the huddles are senior enlisted leaders, Ghaus said it is important for them as leaders to mentor their younger NCOs.
"Everything we learn during our meetings we aren't just keeping it to ourselves," said Ghaus."We are taking all this training and advice and sharing it to both higher and lower levels. It's exciting for me to see our Soldiers grow and we are grateful to command sergeant major Derma and his team."
By Ghaus and the rest of the senior enlisted Afghan leaders sharing their new knowledge with their younger NCOs, Derma said this is a start to a new culture.
"As senior NCOs it's our responsibility to mentor at least two ranks down and show those younger leaders what right looks like and most of the time that mentoring is done through actions," said Derma."They are eager to learn and excited to participate in the training, so I can't wait to see how much more they will be able to progress when they use their NCOs to their full capabilities."