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First Sergeant and Commander Relationship
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• Dedication to the First Sergeant
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The toughest job I had, and the one I remember as having more personal responsibility than any other, was being a first sergeant in combat. That was a good job also. -GEN John W. Vessey, "From Private to Chairman 1ST SGT Was Toughest." Soldiers, Sep 1983, p. 6

There is no individual of a company, scarcely excepting the captain himself, on whom more depends for its discipline, police, instruction, and general well being, than on the first sergeant. This is a grade replete with cares and with responsibility. Its duties place its incumbent in constant and direct contact with the men, exercising over them an influence the more powerful as it is immediate and personal; and all experience demonstrates that the condition of every company will improve or deteriorate nearly in proportion to the ability and worth of its first sergeant. -MG Jacob Brown, letter to the Secretary of War, 1825, American State Papers, Military Affairs, Vol 3, p. 111

"It's a first sergeant's responsibility to the unit to take the knowledge he has learned and pass it to the commander of the unit as well as the privates," said [1SG Miles] Retherford.... Retherford's advice is similar to that of General Omar N. Bradley who said, "When soldiers know their jobs, the first sergeant knows he's done his." -"The First Sergeant." Sergeants' Business, Mar-Apr 1989, p. 17

Your company will be the reflection of yourself. If you have a rotten company it will be because you are a rotten captain. -MAJ Christian Bach, address "Leadership." 1918, Congressional Record Appendix, Vol 88- Part 9, p. A2252

The soldier having acquired that degree of confidence of his officers as to be appointed first sergeant of the company, should consider the importance of his office; that the discipline of the company, the conduct of the men, their exactness in obeying orders, and the regularity of their manners, will in a great measure depend on his vigilance. -MG Frederick von Steuben, Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States, 1779, p. 145

The Captain must be sure that his wishes and ideas are carried out. Only deep loyalty will insure this. This loyalty includes the right of the First Sergeant to disagree with the Captain, argue a point, and then, even if not convinced, loyally carry out the wishes of the Captain.... Many a poor Captain has had his reputation saved and his troop kept, or made, a good troop by a fine First Sergeant. -COL Charles A. Romeyn, "The First Sergeant." Cavalry Journal, Jul 1925, pp. 297, 298

In my first battery command [my] First Sergeant respectfully, but often, reminded me that he had more stripes than I had bars and years of service combined, and I would do well to use his counsel at times. -LTC Norman E. Jarock, Battalion Commanders Speak Out, 1977, p. 6-3

[When taking command of a company, the company commander and the 1SG should] develop and agree on unit goals, standards, and objectives:

--Specify and publish them. (For example, a goal of 260 for everyone on the PT test.)

--Agree on "the forbiddens: the catastrophic non-redeemables." (For example, safety, weapons and ammunition accountability, drugs, DWI, and AWOL.) You and your first sergeant must be on the same "priority frequency" to ensure fairness.

--Show your 1SG a copy of your completed OER Support Form....

Many new company commanders are head-strong and self-assured. They tend to disregard the advice of their experienced and capable 1SG. A few blunders usually bring them back to reality, but you can avoid that humiliation with common sense. Listen to your first sergeant; draw on that long experience.... Good communication also includes listening. [The 1SG] must be able to articulate to you [the company commander] both sides of a problem. He can't do that if he doesn't hear both sides. -BG John G. Meyer, Company Command: The Bottom Line, 1990, pp. 43, 36, 41

It is imperative that the company commander and the First Sergeant work as a close-knit team and that they also include the executive officer in the team. These three must stick together through thick and thin, even if they don't like each other. -SFC Paul H. Johnson, "Brigade First Sergeant." Infantry, Nov-Dec 1986, p. 21

The first sergeant...is about the most indispensable, certainly one of the most famous and probably the most terrifying personage in the United States Army. [He] must be tough and understanding; a genuine out-of-doors type competent to do desk work [who] knows his way around in that bewildering maze and torment known as "Army paper work."... First sergeants many times have saved the bacon of captains and lieutenants. Not alone do recruits and private soldiers learn military wisdom from the top kick. So, if they are wise, do commissioned officers. -Samuel T. Williamson, "Top-Yes, Top-Sergeant." New York Times Magazine, Jan 18, 1942, p. 14

Commanders and First Sergeants are not friends. Their relationship is more important than that. It is a bond based on mutual trust and respect- a bond that exists from the moment the battalion commander passes the guidon to the company commander. The First Sergeant does not think, "You, company commander, have to earn my respect"- that respect is automatically given to the commander. The Army cannot afford the time for respect to be built- the unit may have to go to combat the next day. This mutual respect is based on understanding the backgrounds of the two individuals, and their mutual dedication to the service of their country. As the company commander and First Sergeant work together, this bond can be strengthened, weakened, or broken. A weakened relationship can be repaired through honest dialogue. But once broken, this bond cannot be restored.

The command team must know each other's strengths and weaknesses, because those are the team's strengths and weaknesses. For the command team to reach a point of tangency, it must use the strengths to its greatest advantage while covering for the other's weaknesses- even if it means breaking with traditional officer/NCO roles. -CSM Jimmie W. Spencer, letter 1 Sep 1997

Good 1SGs make company commanders good. -The Battalion Commander's Handbook, 1991, p. 21

It wasn't until I became a first sergeant that I realized how vital the union of [the company commander and the 1SG] is in forming a strong company command team and setting the command's climate.... There has to be a bond between these two leaders before they can form their team. That bond building can be done by working on five elements: relationship, responsibilities, loyalty, duty, and goals.

--Relationship- The commander and first sergeant relationship has to be one of mutual understanding and respect. They must share experiences and ideas both good and bad. They must take each other into consideration and give honest responses. Openness leads to proper sharing between the team. Friendship is also important. Not "buddy buddy," but one of personal concern for each other and their families....

--Responsibilities- These are well defined in AR 600-20. The commander is responsible for everything and the first sergeant implements. Share tasks. Do it in any manner that is comfortable for both leaders....

--Loyalty- This is the element that bonds the team. Loyalty to and from each other must run deep....

--Duty- This is professionalism at its best.... Both the company commander and first sergeant must be truly professional and set high standards....

--Goals- Short term goals must be established early along with the long term goals. These goals could last into the next change of command. But setting these goals does pay off....

A command team forms if a commander and first sergeant work out the five elements discussed. That team has a sense of direction and duty built on mutual trust and will assist each other in accomplishing their mission.... The team attitude will allow you both to lead your company and successfully take care of your soldiers and lead them where you want them to go. -1SG Grover L. Watters, "Five Steps to Success." NCO Journal, Winter 1993, p. 7
Set a time limit for the "official" portion of the [unit meetings. 1SG Michael Teal] timed my portion of the meetings and I timed his. Thus, we kept all time tables. -CPT Thomas R. Siler, "NCO Development Program." Army Trainer, Summer 1983, p. 15

Good, capable non-commissioned officers form so strong a backbone to an organization, be it troop, company, or battery, that if the non-commissioned officers are not up to the mark of reasonably fair efficiency, there is no end of annoyance to the commander. -1LT C. W. Farber, "To Promote the Efficiency of Non-Commissioned Officers." Journal of the Military Service Institution of the United States, Jan 1898, p. 98

General of the Army George C. Marshall on First Sergeants:

I placed the first sergeants on the "officer of the day" roster. They did this work surpassingly well, and I always felt a complete confidence in the state of the garrison when one of these men was on duty. They took it very seriously and there was little that went on in the garrison that they did not already know about. In line with this I made it a point...during the visit of the Corps Area Commander [to present them] personally to him. -General of the Army George C. Marshall, 1941, The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, Vol 2, p. 546

[CPT Charles Lanham wrote to GEN George] Marshall: "Your old friends- the first sergeants down here- never tire of talking of you." [GEN Marshall wrote back:] "I look back on my year at [Fort] Screven as one of the finest in my Army career, and in many ways it was very instructive. The most gratifying phase of the period was contact with an unusual group of noncommissioned officers. I think we had the finest collection of first sergeants there I have ever seen together." -General of the Army George C. Marshall, 1939, The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, Vol 2, p. 58

[When GEN George Marshall was asked in 1933] what he could spare for CCC [Civilian Conservation Corps] work, he said, "Leave my post surgeon, my commissary officer, my post-exchange officer, and my adjutant, and I will run this command with first sergeants." -Forrest C. Pogue, George C. Marshall: Education of a General, p. 276

Information Courtesy of United States Army


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