GARMISCH, Germany — It wasn’t so long ago that the strategic value of a noncommissioned officer in the hierarchy of Sgt. Maj. Henryk Ostapski’s army was right up there with the carrier pigeon.

Military doctrine for the Polish army, he said, still envisioned combat in terms of hundreds of tanks attacking westward in vast waves across Europe, with sheer force of steel outweighing human contributions.

“It used to be … all the wars were fought on maps,” Ostapski said. “Single [tank] crews, they did not really matter.”

That philosophy has been prevalent in many of the nations that sent their top NCOs to the International Senior NCO Seminar in Garmisch this week, where two dozen representatives from 13 nations gathered at the Marshall Center for Security Studies.

Designed as a way to give the senior enlistees from NATO and partner nations a better understanding of the issues facing their commanders, this week’s conference also was aimed at forming a well-connected network of top NCOs, said the command sergeant major for the U.S. European Command, Michael Bartelle.

But one thing that became clear early in the seminar is that the senior liaisons from many of the smaller nations are sitting atop vastly outdated versions of an NCO corps.

The Slovak Republic Armed Forces, for instance, are building an NCO corps from “ground zero,” said Sgt. Maj. Richard Fabricius, from the Slovakian Training and Support Forces Command. One of his biggest goals in coming to the seminar, he said, was to gather ideas on how to update that corps, to see how other countries do it.

“The most important point [for the Slovak army] would be not to stay isolated within our own national NCO corps,” he said.

Though Poland is making strides toward updating the face of its army, Ostapski said he had similar goals at the conference.

“The NCO corps was for many years neglected,” Ostapski said of his force. “Obviously, we need to try to get as much as we can from other countries, especially the U.S.”

For that information, many at the conference made half-veiled appeals to American NCOs for direct assistance, and sought support in selling the concept to military officials in their home countries.

“It’s very hard to get things implemented, changed,” Ostapski said. “We have to bang our heads against the walls, as we say, until we get through.”

But while the American hosts of the conference said they are glad to see countries such as Hungary, Croatia and Spain asking for advice, the United States isn’t about to begin overtly exporting its military model, said Marine Sgt. Maj. Alford McMichael, from Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers’ Allied Operations Command.

“We want them to have a healthy appetite for a professional model, not necessarily a U.S. model,” McMichael said.

The process to revise the nations’ NCO corps is already under way, he said, via collaborations and events such as this week’s rare opportunity for NCOs from Canada to Bosnia to get to see each other’s methods.

“The first step is that they have to open the door to education,” McMichael said. “As they ask for immediate help, they have to realize that help is not on the way — help is here.”

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