Sergeant Maj. Richard D. Thresher, Sergeant Major, 1st Marine Logistics Group, briefs staff noncommissioned officers Oct. 10 aboard Camp Pendleton, Calif. The brief highlighted senior leadership's expectations of SNCOs and demonstrated how to be successful, respected leaders. The classes were designed to facilitate the transition from a Sergeant to being a SNCO. (Cpl. Timothy Childers / Marine Corps)
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A West Coast sergeant major has developed a new tool to prepare his soon-to-be staff noncommissioned officers for the responsibilities that come with promotion to staff sergeant.
Sgt. Maj. Richard Thresher, the top enlisted member of 1st Marine Logistics Group, out of Camp Pendleton, Calif., wants to see his sergeants become responsible, respected staff sergeants. Most of the sergeants about to become SNCOs joined the Corps in the past eight years, and their deployment tempo has in some ways slowed their development as well-rounded leaders.
Now SNCOs have to develop and carry out their own training plans, and Thresher said Marine leaders are finding that they have to teach Marines how to do that.
“They have had the [predeployment] checklist, cookie cutter instructions over the past five or six years, so it has kind of hampered or stifled free thought amongst our young leaders,” Thresher said.
For three days in October, he held an indoctrination brief for upcoming staff sergeants. It included guided discussions with officers and more senior leaders on the enlisted side so they could share with the sergeants what they expect from SNCOs. And what’s expected of SNCOs can vary greatly from officer to enlisted, they found.
“From the enlisted side, they expect them not to be behind a computer but actually kneecap to kneecap with their Marines,” he said. “One of the unique things coming from the officer side of the house is that they expect them to be subject matter experts on the publications and doctrine of the Marine Corps.” That means if a Marine asks them a question about a new order or program, they need to know about it — or at least know how to find out more about it.
Staff sergeants also need to learn how to prioritize, Thresher said, and that sometimes means having the “intestinal fortitude” to tell their leaders that something being asked of them is interfering with their leadership goals.
“Oftentimes at the higher ranks, we say ‘I need something, I need it right now,’ and that really undercuts that [staff NCO’s] training plan, which they might have spent 15 days working on,” he said. “That’s one of the things we expect of staff NCOs — to have the courage to say those types of things.”
As in other commands, 1st MLG leaders are finding that the “getting back to basics” message being touted by older Marines can be lost on the younger ranks. They have reintroduced the Commanding General’s Inspection Program, so they’re conducting wall locker inspections, drills and basic formations two or three times a day.
It’s the perfect time to get back to this stuff, Thresher said, because the older generation of Marines remembers how to do it. They can teach younger Marines, who spent much of their time in the Corps preparing for deployments, that readiness at home is important.
Younger Marines are forward-thinking, he said. They’re excited to get out in front of their juniors and test out their own leadership styles. But one concern they expressed to Thresher is their fear of failure. The sergeants weren’t calling it a zero-defect mentality, but there’s still a sense of apprehension.
Senior leaders need to make sure their SNCOs know it’s OK to make mistakes.
“All they need is for mid-level management and senior leaders to give them that OK; as long as they’re trying, if they make a mistake, they can recover from it if they adjust their approach,” he said.
Col. Sean Gibson, a spokesman for Training and Education Command, said individual units are encouraged to implement their own programs. Preparing Marines for advancement is an inherent responsibility of all commanders, he said.
“They'll know their Marines’ strengths and weakness better than anyone else, and can focus command-sponsored programs accordingly,” he said.