Noncommissioned officers (NCOs) are known unofficially as "The Backbone of the U.S. Army." They are enlisted soldiers who have served long and well enough to be promoted to leadership positions over other soldiers. They are responsible for accomplishing their unit's assigned missions and for taking care of and training the soldiers under their leadership. They maintain the standards of the Army and provide help executing the orders of the commissioned officers above them.
Corporals, staff sergeants and sergeants are NCOs who live and work closely with their soldiers, acting as leaders of squads, sections and teams.
The history of the NCO Corps in the U.S. Army dates to the Revolutionary War, when Baron Friedrich Von Steuben standardized the ranks and responsibilities. The more senior soldiers in the NCO Corps attend mandatory professional development courses as they are promoted from one rank to the next. A Professional Development Ribbon recognizes their progress in the courses.
Keep reading to learn more about the Professional Development Ribbon and how NCOs earn them.
Army NCO Professional Development Courses
The Army's Non-Commissioned Officer Education System (NCOES) provides the courses that NCOs must complete before they advance to the next rank. The Professional Development Ribbon is awarded for completing the first school, the Warrior Leader Course. There is only one Professional Development Ribbon. It does not come with a medal. The ribbon, established in 1981, has vertical stripes in green and yellow, the colors of chevrons (V-shaped insignia) worn by NCOs, and blue, indicating support of the United States.
NCOs who complete higher-level courses are awarded numerals, 2 through 4, to pin on their Professional Development Ribbon. The numeral on a NCO's ribbon will indicate the highest level NCOES course completed. The highest is 4.
Late in 2009, the Army began overhauling its education system for enlisted soldiers. The changes included new, mandatory online Structured Self-Development courses (SSD) for all enlisted soldiers throughout their Army careers. NCOs must complete online SSD courses as prerequisites for attending Professional Development Courses. They're designed to be a bridge between practical experience and education. Changes also were made in the five Professional Development Courses for NCO advancement. Emphasis is more on education for leadership and self-confidence than on drills and specific training.
Some of the courses were renamed.
Here are the Professional Development Courses:
- Warrior Leader Course. This is the first level, formerly known as the Primary Leadership Development Course. This course lasts 15 days and is taught at a number of military installations across the country. It focuses on leadership and team-building. Students earn the Professional Development Ribbon upon completion.
- Advanced Leader Course. This was formerly known as the Basic Noncommissioned Officers Course. This course unfolds in two phases. There's a Web-based core class for all students, focusing on training at the squad and platoon levels. The second is specific for the NCO's Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) and taught at the school for that specialty. Length varies according to specialty, but the course doesn't run more than eight weeks. The number 2 is added to the NCO ribbon upon completion.
- Senior Leader Course. This used to be the Advanced Noncommissioned Officers Course. It's conducted at the school for that chosen MOS. The course length varies and includes parts of the former resident First Sergeants Course. Upon completion, the number 3 is added to the ribbon.
- Sergeants Major Course. This advanced course -- or equivalent training approved by Headquarters, Department of the Army -- is taught at the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy at Fort Bliss, Texas. The class lasts nine months, or two years if the NCO is not a resident at Fort Bliss. Once this class is completed, the number 4 -- the highest possible -- is added to the ribbon.
Keep reading for lots more information about military careers.
- Army Study Guide. "NCO Ranks and Positions Explained." (April 26, 2011)http://www.armystudyguide.com/content/army_board_study_guide_topics/nco_duties/nco-ranks-and-positions
- The Institute of Heraldry. "NCO Professional Development Ribbon."Office of the Administrative Assistant to the Secretary of the Army. (April 21, 2011)http://www.tioh.hqda.pentagon.mil/Awards/nco_professional.aspx
- Nelson, Sgt. 1st Class Margaret C. Headquarters, Department of the Army, Office of the Chief of Public Affairs (Media Relations), Personnel and Human Resources Team. Personal interview by telephone. April 25, 2011.
- PBS. "Sergeant Patrick Gass." Lewis and Clark. Inside the Corps. (Accessed April 29, 2011)http://www.pbs.org/lewisandclark/inside/pgass.html
- Rush, CSM Robert S, U.S. Army, Retired. NCO Guide: Ninth Edition. Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, Pa. 2010.
- Tice, Jim. "Tough new enlisted courses on the way." Army Times. Sept. 14, 2009. (Accessed April 22, 2011)http://www.armytimes.com/news/2009/09/army_NCOES_091409w/
- U.S. Army. "NCO Education System Information." (Accessed April 27, 2011)http://www.armyncoes.com/
- U.S. Army. "Sergeants Major Academy." (Accessed April 29, 2011)https://usasma.bliss.army.mil/site/page.asp?c=about/about.html&r=about/about-r.html&t=About
- U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC). Interview by e-mail. April 27, 2011.