News | Jan. 1, 2014

Backbone of the Armed Forces

By Bryan B. Battaglia Joint Force Quarterly 72

It was December 17, 1777, and General George Washington’s Continental Army had just returned to winter quarters in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. They were exhausted and had gained minimal success in their fight against the British army. But this period in Valley Forge proved critical for the fledgling army and led General Washington to recruit former Prussian officer Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben. His new title: Inspector General. His mission:strengthen the professionalism of the Continental Army. Von Steuben’s training objectives constituted the first written plan for standards, discipline, and duty for Washington’s army, and he created the first manual that outlined the duties and responsibilities of the noncommissioned officer (NCO). So in an important way, December 17 is considered the birthdate of the U.S. Armed Forces NCO corps.

Washington and Lafayette at Valley Forge</span> (John Ward Dunsmore/Library of Congress)

Washington and Lafayette at Valley Forge (John Ward Dunsmore/Library of Congress)

Across the years, from its birth to the present, the NCO corps (and the petty officer corps of our sea-going Services) experienced an enormous professionalization, diversity, growth, skill, and empowerment. For nearly two and a half centuries they have proudly carried the battle colors; stood tall in rank and file; maintained ships, planes, and tanks; led the patrols; inspected the lines; and manned the rails.

Backbone of the Armed Forces Cover

I was fortunate to lead an effort in developing a book that captures the significance of these military leaders throughout the history of America’s Armed Forces. Why so fortunate? Because I had a team of intellectually savvy and extremely talented leaders who served as the A-team of chapter writers. I would like to introduce the Joint Force Quarterly readership to the Defense Department’s newest book, The Noncommissioned Officer and Petty Officer: Backbone of the Armed Forces (NDU Press, 2013).

As a symbolic testament to our obligation and affirmation to our calling as noncommissioned officers, December 17 was chosen specifically as the official release date of the book. A ceremony took place in the Pentagon, officiated by the 18th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I truly find this book to be a “best seller” not only because of the knowledge of the folks who wrote it and the role of the people who will read it, but also because of the story it tells. It is written by, for, and with noncommissioned officers and petty officers. It is an inspiring, thought-provoking, leadership-enhancing book that captures the character of the noncommissioned officer and petty officer. It is grounded in the Profession of Arms, complementary to the Armed Forces Officer book and our enlisted Service manuals, yet written to be distinctive in its own right. You will enjoy its contents as it exposes and captures noncommissioned officer and petty officer attributes and competencies without diluting Service branch expectations or standards. The book defines why our NCO corps is historically and traditionally branded as the “Backbone” of the U.S. Armed Forces.

It is a privilege to serve as a noncommissioned officer or petty officer in America’s all-volunteer force. We represent a professional and empowered cadre of enlisted leaders that society respects and admires and a community of leaders that many nations envy. Each of us carries an obligation, a responsibility, and a professional, moral, and ethical bond toward every American we have sworn to protect.

The book is available through the U.S. Government Printing Office. It is also available online at these sites:

We hope you will acquire a personal copy and enjoy its contents. JFQ


Senior Enlisted Advisor to the 
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff 
and the Senior Noncommissioned Officer in the U.S. Armed Forces