NCOs' status may improve in new Iraqi army
September 23, 2005
(This story is part of an occasional series on building a new Iraqi army.)
REMAGEN, Iraq — At the Iraqi army’s 4th Division headquarters, the deputy division commander enters the enlisted barracks and wakes up his soldiers in the morning.
U.S. soldiers say they aren’t surprised anymore when this happens, or when a senior officer supervises his men filling sandbags.
Most Western armed forces delegate planning and execution to noncommissioned officers. This structure never existed in the old Iraqi army, where senior NCOs were treated like glorified privates and most officers obeyed their commander’s order with no say in the planning.
“NCOs were usually illiterate, and could not even lead themselves, let alone a squad,” said Brig. Gen. Hazim Al Aizawe, Iraqi 4th Division chief of staff.
“The most educated NCO would have a sixth-grade education. When an officer would send out an NCO, he wouldn’t carry out the order. So the officer would supervise because he knew he would be held responsible.
“When you try to punish [the NCO] for not carrying out the order, they would say, ‘It’s not my job.’ It’s not like that in the American Army, where some of the NCOs are just as educated as the officers.”
U.S. soldiers have tried to show Iraqi officers how using NCOs can free them up for higher-level work. Some, like Al Aizawe, hope they can eventually have an American-style NCO corps.
“I’m optimistic. We’re sending NCOs to be trained … and they are close to a high-school education,” he said.
American sergeants who have worked with the Iraqi 4th Division say they hope Aizawe’s attitude spreads.
“There is reluctance on the part of division leadership to provide any authority or trust in what the NCO can do for the army,” said 1st Sgt. David Stewart, 37, of Cincinnati.
Stewart said he has met competent, experienced NCOs who are performing tasks meant for privates. Stewart worked closely with a sergeant major-equivalent who could read and speak both Kurdish and Arabic.
“He was more educated than some of the officers,” Stewart said. “Some of the officers can’t speak or write in Arabic.”
There is some hope for the NCO corps’ development, Stewart said. NCOs appear to be taking a larger role in the division’s 1st Brigade, Stewart said, and other soldiers have noted effective NCOs at the unit level.
“I don’t think [their command] gives them enough credit,” said Maj. Arthur Zegers, 41, of Malta, N.Y. Zegers, who is working to set up the G-4 logistics section at the 4th Iraq Division, said he has worked with a quality NCO at the brigade level, and that others show promise.
On the other hand, some NCOs and enlisted Iraqis have shown little initiative beyond picking up a paycheck. But that isn’t any different than many other workplaces, soldiers say. There are enough willing to take leadership roles if allowed, Stewart said.
“I’ve given a number of NCOs training classes,” he said. “The training is well-received by the students. But it’s being squashed at the officer level.”