NEWS | Aug. 29, 2018

Fortifying the Backbone

By Staff Sgt. Zach Sheely Colorado National Guard

Amman, JORDAN – A small team of non-commissioned officers from the Colorado Army National Guard visited the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan July 20-27, 2018, to strengthen bonds and contribute to the ongoing development of the Jordan Armed Forces non-commissioned officer corps.

The long-established U.S. Army NCO Corps is often called the "backbone of the Army." That foundational drumbeat has been reverberating across the Jordan Armed Forces, which established its NCO corps in 2010. The JAF identified the need to produce a non-commissioned officer guide similar to the U.S. Army Blue Book that standardizes the roles and responsibilities of the non-commissioned officer. In computer terms, the circuits of the JAF NCO corps are wired, but some final coding will enhance operations.

Enter the Colorado National Guard. The COARNG team travelled across Jordan to visit with JAF leadership and NCO counterparts to contribute to the development of this product.

"This is the most progress we've made in an NCO engagement since I've been involved with the program — and probably in the entire history of the partnership," said Command Sgt. Maj. Bill Woods, senior enlisted leader of the Colorado National Guard. "This is the first time that we've actually been asked for a product and it's going to be a partnership in developing the guide."

The COARNG/JAF NCO development initiative is a sliver of a robust relationship between the Colorado National Guard and Jordan as part of the National Guard Bureau's State Partnership Program. Jordan and Colorado have been partnered since 2004. It is one of only six State Partnerships in the U.S. Central Command's Area of Responsibility and the only state partnership in the Levant region of the Middle East.

The Colorado Army Guard team consisted of NCOs from the rank of sergeant to sergeant first class, representing the 100th Missile Defense Brigade, 169th Field Artillery Brigade, and Recruiting and Retention Battalion.

"In all, we were very impressed," said Sgt. Jacob Smee, unit administrator with Headquarters, Headquarters Battery, 3rd Battalion, 157th Field Artillery Brigade. "The Jordan NCOs are very professional and it looks like they're ready for more."

The Colorado Guard NCOs met with the 1st Special Operations Battalion, 20th Royal Artillery Battalion and 61st Royal Air Defense Battalion of the Jordan Army. They also visited the Royal Jordanian Air Force headquarters, the JAF Language Institute, Military Women's Training Center and the JAF Headquarters. At each visit, the NCO team met with the respective commander and were treated to Jordanian hospitality of tea, coffee and fruit.

"They're very friendly and the hospitality is wonderful, but I felt like our time with the Soldiers and NCOs was best," said Smee. "We learned a lot about how they operate and do business."

The JAF, which recently established an NCO Academy to develop and hone NCO leadership abilities, has progressed rapidly and is willing to embrace change, Woods said.

"The Jordanians have proven versatile when it comes to changing their culture," said Woods. "Only recently they opened up their rotary wing pilot program to female airmen. Now they have three trained female pilots, with several more in the pipeline. It happened fast.

"It's the same thing with their NCO corps," he said. "It's the reality that there was a time when officers led and then there was everyone else. Now, they value their NCO corps and put more trust and responsibility with them. They are open to growth and change and there are pockets of excellence across the JAF."

The purpose of the NCO guide, in addition to adding value and credence to JAF NCOs, will be to outline the day-to-day roles and responsibilities of NCOs. This will allow NCOs, officers and future NCOs to understand exactly what is expected of a non-commissioned officer. So why not take the U.S. Army's NCO Guide and simply translate it to Arabic, the native language of Jordanians?

Staff Sgt. Amanda Bryer said it's not that simple.

"We have learned a lot about their culture and how it works within their military," said Bryer, a military intelligence Soldier who learned Arabic at the Defense Language Institute in Monterrey, California. "There are cultural and religious differences that are not addressed in our NCO guide that will need to be addressed in theirs."

Throughout the engagement, the COARNG team shared experiences and best practices with their Jordanian counterparts. One observation noted by Sgt. 1st Class Ian Gronewold, the non-commissioned officer in charge of the team, is that JAF NCOs universally expressed their desire for merit-based promotions. Currently, JAF NCOs must only meet time in grade and a vacancy that needs filled as the promotion criteria.

"They have good understanding of what is required of an NCO," said Gronewold. "They strive to be better and expect more out of themselves on a day-to-day basis. Part of that would be to alter their promotion criteria to train and select those most deserving based on military performance and knowledge.

"Their officers are expecting more of them and empowering them to accomplish more, and that's more of what we experience as NCOs in the U.S. Army," said Gronewold.

According to Woods, the way ahead will be to conduct more of these types of engagements in Jordan and Colorado to continue to strengthen the long, rich relationship between the two.

"Everywhere we go in Jordan, we meet new friends or see ones we've met before," Woods said. "The best advice I would give is 'Don't be afraid to fail.' Don't be afraid to let your NCOs fail in non-mission-critical areas. You learn more from failure than you do from success.

"One day, Jordanians will be traveling across the region teaching other armies how to better integrate their NCOs," said Woods.

Sgt. Maj. Salem Bani Mustafa, sergeant major of the Jordan Armed Forces, is excited about the future and continued ties with the Colorado National Guard.

"The U.S. Army and Colorado National Guard have given us great support over the years," said Mustafa. "We hope to have more reciprocal engagements and continue to share best practices. On behalf of all the NCOs in Jordan thank you for coming here. You will always be welcome in Jordan, your second home."