GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — Officers from different nations have been meeting for years to establish relationships and prepare to work in coalitions during times of war. Now noncommissioned officers are doing the same thing.

Command sergeants major from 39 nations within the U.S. European Command’s area of responsibility met at Grafenwöhr last week at the first Conference of European Army Non Commissioned Officers.

NCOs at the conference represented such far-flung nations as Afghanistan, South Africa and Azerbaijan, and plenty of former Warsaw Pact nations and NATO allies. Russia declined an invitation to send an NCO.

George Dryden, chief of the central Eurasia branch of the international operations division of U.S. Army Europe, said there are plenty of forums that bring officers from different nations together but the NCO conference is the first big event that brings the sergeants together.

“When they go to a peacekeeping operation like Lebanon or Africa, the sergeants have to be able to work together as well as the officers for everything to run smoothly,” he said.

The dominant theme during the conference was efforts by nations to build NCO corps, he said.

“Many of the countries, especially the former Warsaw Pact countries didn’t have NCOs like western countries do,” he said.

Many of the countries attempting to stand up new NCO corps are following the U.S. model but others follow British or German models, he said.

USAREUR Command Sgt. Maj. Iuniasolua Savusa said he had visited many of the nations participating in the conference and had spoken to many of the NCOs attending.

“Most of these engagements are about the NCO corps they are trying to establish in their armies. Some are well on their way and others are just now putting that system in place,” he said.

For example, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and the Czech Republic are in the advanced stages of building their NCO corps. Georgia, Ukraine and Azerbaijan are just putting the system in place, he said.

“A lot of these countries [have troops] in Iraq and Afghanistan. What is interesting to me is how [some nations] have taken our NCO education system and mirrored it,” Savusa added.

In the last three years the U.S. Army’s NCO Academy at Grafenwöhr has graduated 340 international students from 11 nations, according to the academy’s commandant, Command Sgt. Maj. Erik R. Frey.

“That is not just students but assistant instructors for the train-the-trainer program so they can train their NCO corps back in their countries,” he said.

One of the foreign NCOs taking part in the conference, Command Sgt. Maj. Alexandru Cimpoca of the Romanian army, said the conference was a great chance for him to see how the U.S. NCO education system works.

“When we go together in a multinational coalition we need to do things in the same way. Interoperability is the most important thing these days. We should trust that they do things the way we do and they must trust that we do things to the same standard,” he said.

The importance of interoperability is not just an intellectual challenge for the Romanian NCOs. A U.S. company from 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment is serving under a Romanian battalion commander in Afghanistan.

Another foreign NCO at the conference, Sgt. Maj. Richard Fabricius of the Slovenian Armed Forces, said he had attended the U.S. Sgt. Majors Academy in 2002/2003.

“This conference is the kickoff for very broad coordination on a multinational level, as you can see here by the number of sergeant majors who are attending,” he said. “I believe we can crack a lot of issues and help countries trying to build up professional NCO corps,”

E-mail Seth Robson at:

author picture
Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now