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Memorandum for Colonel Ginsburgh1
June 21, 1941 [Washington, D.C.]
I have been unable to focus on the problem of providing you one or two instances of my experience with non-commissioned officers indicating their importance in the military set-up. The matter is too important to be treated lightly, and lacking an appropriate example I have hesitated to produce a poor one. At the moment I can only think of these hints towards what is desired:
Throughout my service I have been opposed to the close supervision of officers over work which was appropriate to non-commissioned officers, feeling that the job would be better done if proper confidence was reposed in the NCO. For example, wherever I have been in command I have insisted that the close-order drill should be largely the problem of the 1st sergeant, and I objected to all the officers being on the drill ground in constant and intimate supervision of what the sergeant was doing. This is a little dangerous medicine to broadcast at this particular moment when we have a limited experience in the senior non-coms, and the necessity for constant supervision by everybody. Yet on the peacetime basis of the old Regular Army, I thought it was important, and always felt that we lost a great deal by having the much higher paid officers, who should have been doing planning and other advanced work of preparation, in a sense humbling the first sergeants by following at their heels.
There is a great difference of opinion in regard to this, many colonels requiring their officers to be on the drill field—by drill field I mean for close-order work—just at the time I think it should have been the first sergeant’s “hour”. With the diminutive companies of the peacetime Regular Army, this seemed to me all the more important because I felt the old first sergeant was a better drill master—I am not talking about extended order work or minor tactics—than the new lieutenant, and particularly, that he was better than the officer of ten or more years’ service, who should mentally have progressed into wider fields of action. Our procedure, I felt, was a little like having the college professor or instructor being always present at the kindergarten or first grade work.
In my treatment of non-commissioned officers—and remember I am talking of the old Regular Army, old in the sense of prior to 1938—I always maintained a personal contact with all of the first sergeants so far as it was possible, and utilized their services at times on duties that always had been confined to commissioned officer personnel. For example, partly to relieve the strain on the small officer personnel at a post, and partly to utilize the outstanding quality of the first sergeants at that particular post, 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 to have them line up outside my quarters at some appropriate moment during the visit of the Corps Area Commander, and presented them personally to him.
The trouble with these examples is, they, in a sense, do not fit the present situation and they are not appropriate for me to be talking about because it amounts to praise of my system rather than of what is intended, an appreciation of the NCO.
There should be no question about the importance of the NCO; unless he is well trained, highly disciplined, loyal, and a leader you can expect very little from that organization. He must be good. The point I have been making is, we have always talked about the importance of the NCO and then seldom have trusted him twenty feet out of our sight. The trouble here is, this does not exactly suit the present day Army, so it is ticklish business.
Document Copy Text Source: George C. Marshall Papers, Pentagon Office Collection, Selected Materials, George C. Marshall Research Library, Lexington, Virginia.
Document Format: Typed memorandum.
1. Lieutenant Colonel A. Robert Ginsburgh, assigned to the Office of the Chief of Staff, drafted speeches for Marshall.
Recommended Citation: The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, ed. Larry I. Bland, Sharon Ritenour Stevens, and Clarence E. Wunderlin, Jr. (Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 1981- ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 2, “We Cannot Delay,” July 1, 1939-December 6, 1941 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), pp. 545-547.