Honolulu – Because a world of transregional threats requires transregional networks and solutions, US Indo-Pacific Command hosted a senior enlisted leadership conference here last week.
Senior enlisted leaders from across the globe came together to discuss strategic leadership and the role of senior enlisted leaders in this complex and dynamic world. Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Anthony A. Spadaro, Indo-Pacom’s senior enlisted leader, was the driving force behind the conference.
When Spadaro began the conference two years ago, six senior enlisted leaders attended. Last year, the number grew to 16. This year, it was 20.
Army Command Sgt. Maj. John W. Troxell, the senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was the keynote speaker on the first day of the conference. He called the role of senior enlisted leaders “transformational” in helping to build alliances and networks. “We are able to devote the time to each other in ways our chiefs of defense can’t,” Troxell said.
Troxell is the highest-rankling enlisted leader in the US military. He advises the chairman and the defense secretary and works closely with the senior enlisted leaders of the services and the combatant commands.
The senior enlisted leaders start with professional relationships that build to friendships, Troxell said. “We do this together,” he added. “There is more of an interpersonal relationship here that allows us to grow and get after what we need to get after.”
Doing that, he explained, promotes the relationships that are so important to building interoperability. “We show our generals and admirals and elected officials the power of a collective network of senior enlisted leaders,” he said.
Each senior enlisted leader has to understand the visions, priorities and intents of commanders and political leaders, Troxell said, and senior noncommissioned officers must then develop complementary focus areas.
“If we don’t do that, we are on the fast track to irrelevance,” he said. “We need to have the personal and professional courage to do and say what needs to be said.”
Complex Operating Environment
Troxell said today’s world arguably presents the most complex operating environment in the history of modern warfare, where threats come from nations and nonstate actors looking to use new technologies in new domains to take on the United States. He also spoke about the ability of adversaries to use disinformation to push an agenda or to influence people. Globalization and the increased speed of communication makes this possible, he said.
“As senior enlisted leaders, we look at chaotic situations and shape the conditions so men and women can thrive, grow and develop and our armed forces can continue to develop and be that arm of action that defends our sovereign territory, our allies and our national interests,” Troxell told the senior enlisted leaders. “My role is to say what we are doing globally so it makes sense to our people who work regionally.”
To illustrate his point, Troxell noted the additional attention the US military is paying to the Indo-Pacific region, noting that service members in other combatant commands may think their missions should have more resources and capabilities. For example, he said, troops in the US Central Command area of operations are worried because they believe they have threats such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, al-Qaida and al-Shabab and are losing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets and fires control.
“I think we all know that if our troops know what is going on at the strategic level and why it affects them at the tactical level, they may not like it — they may cuss about it — but in the end they will accept it and they will drive on the mission,” he said.
Delivering a Message That Resonates
Senior enlisted leaders speak for the troops and to the troops, Troxell said, and his message in December to troops was that ISIS has only two options: surrender or die. If they didn’t surrender, he said, there would be no mercy and service members would “shoot them in the face, or beat them to death with an entrenching tool.”
“I am saying exactly what [Defense Secretary James N. Mattis] and [Joint Chiefs Chairman Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford] expect me to say,” the sergeant major said. “It’s about inspiring the troops and dispiriting the enemy. And it was what the troops needed to hear, which is [that] we’re going to stay focused on this threat, we’re going to defend our collective homelands, and we’re going to refuse to allow any terrorist to influence how we raise our children and grandchildren.
“We are the spokesmen for the troops,” he continued, “and we need to deliver the messages that will resonate with the troops, will get leadership attention and people will understand the direction we need to go.”