GARMISCH-PARTENKIRCHEN, Germany — As the war in Afghanistan winds down, senior U.S. and NATO noncommissioned officers are keen to maintain and pass on to the next generation of troops lessons learned about cooperation on the battlefield.

During a decade of war-fighting, tactical interoperability is at an all-time high among allies, Fleet Master Chief Roy Maddocks, the senior enlisted officer of U.S. European Command, said during the International Senior Enlisted Seminar at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies. More than 30 senior NCOs from the U.S. and Europe meeting there have been looking at ways to bolster training partnerships even as nations withdraw combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. The nine-day enlisted conference in Garmisch ends Thursday.

“The worst thing would be that this experience became perishable,” said Command Chief Master Sgt. Richard Small, the senior enlisted leader at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe. “We’ve worked too hard and come too far to turn back now.”

While NCOs are in key positions of leadership in the U.S. military, that is not the case in all European militaries, where officers often manage tasks U.S. enlisted personnel would supervise.

A strategy is now in place to close some of those gaps and establish a more common understanding of the role of the noncommissioned officer.

“Our job now is the dissemination” of the strategy, Maddocks said, “and to develop the political will from partners to begin working it.”

“It is that strategy that will add to and increase the interoperability,” Small added. “We need it in not just tactics and operations, but at strategic levels.”

Sgt. Maj. Mario Bagaric, sergeant major of Armed Forces Bosnia and Herzegovina, said his country’s military is still working on building up its NCO corps.

“We need more time, since we’re a country in a transition period. But it was not long ago we had no professional development for NCOs,” he said. “We’re making progress now and shaping the NCOs to our needs.”

Given the country’s limited resources, a key outcome for Bosnia at past senior enlisted seminars has been new resource-sharing and NCO training partnership agreements among Balkan nations, Bagaric said. “All of that started here in 2008 in Garmisch-Partenkirchen,” Bagaric said. “The experience here is great value for us.”

Finding ways to share resources and combine training missions will be one way to keep NCO partnerships strong among allies during tough economic times, U.S. leaders said.

After the 2014 withdrawal from Afghanistan, “we’re going to have to work harder to keep these conferences and education platforms going,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas Capel, senior enlisted leader of NATO forces in Afghanistan. “Countries will be off the battlefield, but we need to make sure there are people to help train, educate and partner with, just in case something does happen out there.

“We don’t know when the next terrorist will hit,” Capel said.

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John covers U.S. military activities across Europe and Africa. Based in Stuttgart, Germany, he previously worked for newspapers in New Jersey, North Carolina and Maryland. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware.

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