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Crucible puts new NCOs to the test

Sergeants inducted into the NCO Corps

593rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command

Published: 11:00PM July 24th, 2014

Sergeant Erik Hernandez takes a “casualty” from a fellow squad member and fireman-carries the staff sergeant forward. Behind him, the rest of the squad works together to keep a tractor tire, boulder, log and stretcher from touching the ground. If anything touches the ground, the whole squad stops and does 20 “burpees.” These are some of the challenges the of NCO Induction Crucible held at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, July 17.

“I hadn’t even heard about it before, until they briefed us a month ago.” Hernandez said, “I’ve never had to do something like this.”

At 5 a.m., two hours before the juggling act, newly promoted sergeants from the 504th Military Police Battalion, along with their squad leaders and platoon sergeants, were divided into two squads. A junior sergeant from each squad is selected to conduct pre-combat checks and issue a hasty five-paragraph mission order.

At the beginning of the course, the sergeants faced a steep hill with a narrow path. Both squads put their boulder on their stretcher and two-man carried their log up the hill with relative ease. The tractor tire proved more difficult.

“We had a tire with a boulder stuck in it and we tried to get it out, but it took us going up the hill to figure out how to do it.” Hernandez said, “It took 15 to 20 minutes trying to get up that hill, and I was just exhausted.”

As the squads move through the course, junior sergeants are rotated in and out of leadership positions and given obstacles to overcome.

They must recite the Creed of the Non-commissioned Officer and answer questions about NCO history and troop leading procedures while the rest of the squad conducts physical training.

“I took charge of saying the NCO Creed while my team was doing burpees.” Hernandez said, “This falls on me, and I don’t want to make them do fifty burpees in full (gear).”

The pressure placed on Hernandez is not by accident.

“(We are) pulling the sergeant out of their comfort zone,” said 1st Sgt. Justin Fordice, of the 170th MP Co. “(We are) showing them some nontraditional events that can be done to bring out the character in themselves, and to see the kind of peers and superiors they have with them on their left and their right.”

With just under a mile left, the squads received a new order. They had to complete the rest of the course carrying a simulated casualty from their squad without anything touching the ground.

“You get frustrated, you get tired, you get annoyed and that’s when you see someone’s character,” Fordice said. “I think it’s events like this that need to be conducted so leaders can see the character that’s in their Soldiers when they’re faced with physical adversity — that’s what happened today.”

“People would step up and everybody would listen to each other’s input.” Hernandez said, “When you’re a team leader, you’ve got to listen to your Soldiers. They might have an idea that didn’t pop into your head.”

At the end of it all their reward: the squads that finished first went to the front of breakfast line — a privilege for the exhausted NCOs.

The food was donated by their first sergeants and their senior cook.

“The battalion volunteered to put all the food together and prepare it for us,” Fordice said.

Following breakfast, the NCOs received leadership development training from the battalion command sergeant major. Today the sergeants are being formally inducted into the NCO Corps during a ceremony at McChord Theater. The sergeants will walk through a saber arch; likely with the lessons learned from the previous day’s crucible on their minds.

“This is something that teaches you about the NCO Corps.” Hernandez said, “We have staff sergeants out there and sergeants first class out there doing it with us ... and you know you can trust your platoon sergeant and squad leader because they are right there with you.”

“I think it’s an event anybody can do at any level.” Fordice said, “I’m just glad to see this concept being taken on as a nontraditional way to do leader development.”