by MSG Alf H. Rodahl, Norweigan Army
Imagine having an army without a Noncommissioned Officer (NCO) Corps. For many nations, this might seem unthinkable; however, it was a reality for the Norwegian Army until 2016, when the Norwegian Armed Forces developed their NCO Corps. In this article, I will explain why the Norwegian Defense established an NCO Corps, how the NCO Corps has contributed to building a higher degree of military readiness, and my motivation for transforming from an officer to an NCO. Furthermore, this article aims to analyze why the NCO Corps is vital for the Norwegian Army as it motivates personnel to continue service, retaining crucial competence and knowledge within the organization.
Did the Norwegian Military Need an NCO Corps?
Prior to 2016, leadership in the Norwegian Armed Forces consisted primarily of officers. However, a significant percentage of these officers were junior officers with insufficient officer training. Their training primarily consisted of 12 months of Basic Leader Course, not the three-year education resulting in a bachelor’s degree in military leadership. The officers who conducted the basic leader’s course had the opportunity to work as an officer until age 35 and then retire from the Army or attend the Military Academy to get the education they needed to stay in the Army (Regjeringen, 2015). By conducting the three-year officer training, one could stay in the Army until the retirement age of 60.
One issue was that personnel who reached age 35 had insufficient motivation to start a three-year-long officer education and, therefore, retired from the Army early to become a Civilian. To avoid having an Army consisting of elderly high-ranking officers unable to delegate responsibility and utilize mission command, the Norwegian Defense created their NCO corps to counteract a top-heavy organization. The NCO corps would also create a balance between officers and enlisted personnel and build an opportunity for both personnel categories to work within the field of tasks which motivated them (Forsvaret, 2015). Furthermore, the most valuable outcome of establishing the NCO corps was avoiding crucial competence leaving the organization by retaining the personnel longer and saving resources on education and training.
The Outcome of Establishing the Norwegian NCO Corps
The most significant advantage for Norwegian commanders across all echelons is that the NCO corps has contributed to increased predictability for the personnel and a potential reduction in enlisted personnel leaving the force. However, the assessment of establishing the NCO corps has so far shown that it has yet to have the wanted outcome of increased continuity. The turnover in the Norwegian Army is still high and does not contribute to keeping the competence and experience within the organization. According to a study conducted by Forsvarets Forskningsinstitutt (FFI) (2020), Soldiers ranging from E1 to E4 still see their commitment to the Army as a temporary commitment. It is essential to understand that a substantial change like the implementation of the NCO corps needs time to have a successful outcome. When FFI conducted its study in 2020, the NCO corps had only had four years to flourish, and several factors that would make the NCO corps successful still needed to be sufficiently in place.
Today, the Norwegian Armed Forces have established a comprehensive system for Professional Military Education (PME) of NCOs. The Norwegian Army’s educational system currently consists of a Corporals course, a Sergeant course, and three additional levels of education for NCOs intended to educate leaders at platoon, company, and battalion levels. This allows NCOs to have professional development throughout their career. By identifying personal and professional development as one of the crucial motivational factors contributing to retaining personnel, the educational system’s emphasis on NCOs has proven vital. According to the United States Department of the Army (2019), leadership is the activity utilized to influence people by providing purpose, direction, and motivation to accomplish the mission and improve the organization. The Norwegian Defense also identified motivation as a crucial factor in improving the organizational needs when it came to maintaining competence and knowledge.
Furthermore, as the studies conducted in 2020 show that Soldiers see their employment with the Army as temporary, it is reasonable to assume that the isolated changes in the opportunity for NCOs to keep serving until retirement age are insufficient for the NCO corps to be successful. The current changes are also why the Norwegian Defense conducted its Career, Competence, and Talent project more precisely in recent years. This helps identify what measures the Norwegian Armed Forces must take for the changes to be sufficient and successful. The project also found PME for NCOs as one of the most significant success factors when retaining personnel.
Based on my own experience, this is due to two main reasons. Firstly, personnel feel more capable of being successful in their work after conducting education that prepares them for the right level. Secondly, personnel feel more obligated to stay longer in the Army after being one of the few selected for continuous PME. If the Army is successfully retaining personnel, one saves resources and increases the organizational knowledge needed to achieve goals and reach the commander’s intent. The direction, purpose, and intent are clear, but the achievements of establishing the Norwegian NCO corps still need to be optimal (Andersen et al., 2020). One reason might be that the Norwegian Department of Defense forgot one crucial factor: how to motivate officers to transition to becoming NCOs?
The Motivation to Convert from Officer to NCO
When the Norwegian Military created the NCO Corps, I had served in the Army for eighteen years, fifteen of them as an officer. I had my officer education from the military academy, and being an officer was part of my identity and profession. However, I knew that promotion from my rank as Captain to Major meant that I would be doing more paperwork from behind a desk in solitude than doing what I joined the Army for in the first place. I joined the Army because of the motivation to work in teams with other motivated personnel and achieve goals as part of a group. When I transitioned from Captain to First Sergeant in 2018, I passionately believed that this was a chance to keep doing what had motivated me to join, and so far, I have been right. Transitioning to a senior NCO was an exciting but challenging experience for me. I suddenly became a First Sergeant, following a Company Commander who was younger and less experienced than me. However, as I had already served as a company commander, it gave me valuable insight into my commander’s way of thinking. It made it much easier to advise him and help him make informed decisions.
My colleagues also found it strange that I converted to an NCO instead of continuing a vertical career as an officer. However, when they saw the achievements I made based on my officer competence in an NCO role, many officers followed in my footsteps. I only served two years as a first sergeant before my Battalion Commander sent me to the Senior NCO Course at the Norwegian Defense University College. I graduated at the top of my class in 2020 and was selected to become Battalion Command Sergeant Major after graduation. By this time, half of my officer colleagues had converted to senior NCOs who said that one of the reasons why they transitioned was how I inspired them with my achievements.
I might describe the establishment of the Norwegian NCO Corps as a success from a personal point of view. However, it is essential to ask: did it work? The Norwegian NCO corps has only existed for seven years. So far, the Norwegian Defense has yet to see notable changes in NCO retention (Forsvaret, 2021). Many junior and senior NCOs leave the Military at age 35. One of the reasons for this is that they are the same personnel who served before the establishment of the NCO Corps in 2016. According to FFI (2020), one reason is that this category of personnel already had plans to study and get jobs outside the military at age 35 when they joined the Army. However, I believe that in time, the Military will see more personnel from our newer generations motivated to serve within the Armed Forces until retirement age. The success criteria to make this happen lies within the establishment of the NCO corps and the opportunity to have a career opportunity in the Army while working with motivating tasks. Furthermore, supported by an NCO educational system that provides personal and professional development, increasing the motivation to continue serving in the Army. Through time, I ultimately believe the Norwegian Army’s NCO corps will become the backbone of our Army.
Establishing the Norwegian NCO Corps will be vital for the Norwegian Army in the future, as it will increase the number of motivated personnel who serve in the Army. The effects of the established NCO corps are that the organization will retain crucial competence for a more extended period than earlier, as it allows personnel without officer training to serve until retirement age. I believe it will take time before the Norwegian Military sees the outcome expected from establishing the new NCO Corps and that it is too early to conclude if it has worked according to its intent. However, there are several positive results from the change already. The Norwegian Army sees a positive trend in leaders’ predictability. Furthermore, a new educational system for NCOs is now in place, allowing both personal and professional development all the way from joining the military, until retirement. These factors should contribute to an increase in personnel that serves for a longer period of time. A lower turnover among NCOs will allow the Norwegian Army to keep vital competence within the organization, ultimately turning the NCO Corps into the backbone of the Norwegian Army.
Andersen, Ø., S., Dalen, M., Nygaard, O., E., Rodahl. A. (2020).Militærordningen: Alt var ikke bedre før [New military system: Not everything was better before]. Forsvarets forum.no. https://forsvaretsforum.no/militaerordningen-alt-var-ikke-bedre-for/113302
Department of the Army. (2019). Army leadership and the profession (ADP 6-22). https://armypubs.army.mil/epubs/DR_pubs/DR_a/ARN20039-ADP_6-22-001-WEB-0.pdf
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Regjeringen. (2015).Prop. 111 LS (2014-2015): Militærordningen [Prop. 111LS (2014-2015) New military system]. Regjeringen.no. https://www.regjeringen.no/no/dokumenter/prop.-111-ls-2014-2015/id2408094/
Master Sergeant Alf H. Rodahl is an Infantry Senior Noncommissioned Officer in the Norwegian Army. He has served in every leadership position, from Squad leader to Battalion Command Sergeant Major. He currently attends the Sergeants Major Course (Resident) Class 73 at the US Army Noncommissioned Officer Leadership Center of Excellence. His civilian education includes a bachelor’s degree in leadership and a master’s degree in public management. The Norwegian Defense Force established their NCO Corps in 2016, and in 2018, MSG Rodahl transitioned from a Captain to the rank of First Sergeant as one of the first senior NCOs in the Norwegian Army.
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