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The Noncommissioned Officer:
Images of an Army in Action

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From Information to Intelligence
Korea, 1952

Five short years after the end of World War II, American NCOs were once again in combat. Much of the fighting in Korea resembled the trench warfare of World War I. Consequently, NCOs skilled in patrolling to gather information were especially important. Here a sergeant, first class, from the regimental headquarters intelligence section (S-2) debriefs a sergeant from a reconnaissance platoon just back from a nighttime mission into no-man's-land.

The uniforms worn in the Korean War were those of an Army in transition and, like the weapons employed, reflected innovations from the closing days of World War II. The herringbone twill (HBT) cotton clothing in a dark olive drab shade, originally intended as a work uniform, had become a practical battle dress, with large pockets providing a convenient means to store rations and other vital items. Similarly, improved field equipment, such as the M1945 combat pack depicted here, and the lighter .30-caliber M1 or M2 carbine quickly proved its worth, especially to experienced NCOs. The combat boot widely used in Korea was actually the old service shoe with a double-buckle cuff. Its flesh-out leather was no longer treated with dubbin, but instead was rubbed smooth to accept polish.

The proliferation of specialist positions after World War II resulted in a revision of grade structure and rank insignia in 1948. The new system identified combat and noncombat (or technical) functions by smaller size chevrons of reversed color scheme. Combat leaders, such as a sergeant from a reconnaissance platoon, now wore three stripes and one rocker in blue on a goldenlite background; contrasting colors like those worn by the sergeant, first class, on the left indicated noncombat duties.

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Give Me Ten
Georgia, 1960

NCOs have always been responsible for the physical fitness of the soldiers under them. Despite the increasing emphasis on technology and sophisticated weaponry in the post-Korean War period, the Army con-tinued to believe that every soldier was at heart a combat infantryman who needed to be at his or her physical best. Here at the Airborne School at Fort Benning, where every instructor is an NCO, a "black hat" ser-geant, first class, directs physical training. A young lieutenant, seeking his jump wings, does push-ups to "pay" for a training infraction.

The instructor in this picture wears the fatigue uniform without shirt for "PT" (physical training). Fatigue clothing, now accepted as field dress, underwent yet another change when the Army returned to a garri-son environment and sought to standardize its uniforms with other ser-vices. Now termed "utilities," fatigues became dressier. Bellows pockets gave way to a simpler cut; plastic buttons replaced metal ones; and a smoother olive green sateen fabric became standard. In 1954 "US Army" appeared as a tape above the left breast pocket, while chevrons, as shown on the private, first class, demonstrator, began to switch to the modern pattern of goldenlite on Army Green, with the new system of eagle insignia for specialists. Local options began to proliferate. The use of a tape over the right pocket bearing the soldier's last name soon became mandatory, but the instructor's baseball cap bearing bright miniature rank insignia and qualification badge never attained official status. Parachute jump boots, originally adopted as a practical ankle support, became a symbol for airborne troops. Even after the boots were authorized for all personnel in 1952, paratroopers took pride in distinctively blousing their boots.

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A Into the Provinces
Vietnam, 1965

Technically trained sergeants and specialists built roads, schools, hospitals, and other vital installations during the early phase of the Vietnam War. These experienced, career NCOs applied their technical skills to a new purpose-civic action programs. These measures were designed to support the Saigon government's efforts to forge a modem nation capable of denying popular support to the Communist insurgents. Here the master sergeant surveys a new road under construction into a remote region of the Vietnamese countryside.

Deployment into the provinces of Vietnam called for innovation in field service uniforms. A new tropical version appeared, based on the parachute clothing of World War II. Originally perfected for counterin-surgency operations, the new clothing was issued to rotating personnel as it became available. It brought back the use of cargo pockets and other utilitarian features. Some original touches, such as shoulder loops, waist tabs, and exposed buttons, soon had to be eliminated. The uniform was accompanied by fast-drying boots with nylon uppers. The first issue of the new hot-weather boot had no ankle reinforcement or protection against punji stakes.

Headgear even cooler than the recently developed olive green base-ball cap became a necessity. The latter, still worn by the heavy-equipment operator, could not block the hot rays of the Vietnamese sun. The mas-ter sergeant checking the work of the road-building crew wears an early version of the "bush hat. " At this stage of the war, troops still wore the white underwear and brightly colored name tapes and rank and other insignia more appropriate for a garrison environment.

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War in a Maze
Vietnam, 1969

Because of the shortage of NCOs during the Vietnam War, first-term "buck" sergeants, normally squad leaders, often found themselves in command of combat patrols. Many of these men were graduates of the Noncommissioned Officers Candidate Course. Known in the field as "shake and bakes," these instant NCOs quickly mastered the difficul-ties of warfighting in rugged terrain. Reliable radio communications gave them immediate access to firepower never before available to junior leaders. Here a patrol leader under attack calls his fire support center for assistance.

Modifications in basic weapons, clothing, and equipment came rapidly as the Army tried to solve the special problems encountered in hot and humid Vietnam. The improved tropical combat uniform in ripstop fab-ric became available, as did spike-resistant boots. The load of the infan-trymen also changed as the extra food and clothing carried on their web gear or in nylon rucksacks was replaced by plastic canteens of water and by munitions: fragmentation and smoke grenades, mines, trip flares, and extra magazines of 5.56-mm. ammunition. The increase in firepower of a squad revolved around the new, lighter-weight M16A1 rifle with 20-round magazine. Modified slings and bandoleers holding extra ammu-nition exploited its fully automatic potential.

The introduction of olive green underclothing and towels (used commonly as sweat rags) and subdued chevrons reduced the chances of giving away one's position to the enemy. Individuals sometimes dealt with the stress of their tours of duty by personalizing the uniform through the use of local Vietnamese jewelry and slogans written on the camouflage helmet cover.

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Training the Trainers
CONUS, 1975

Advances in technology and management techniques in the post- Vietnam Modern Volunteer Army put continuing emphasis on profes-sional training for NCOs. The Army's traditional instructors now alter-nated as students as well. This emphasis on classroom training at regular career intervals was reflected in the creation of the Noncommissioned Officer Educational System (NCOES). Here a specialist, sixth class, lectures a class of NCOs, including a sergeant major in the foreground, on records management procedures under The Army Functional Files System.

The end of the Vietnam War and the draft signaled the return of an all-volunteer military. The 1970s were years of transition, as the Army sought to adjust to changing attitudes and conditions while still retaining a sense of tradition. For example, the ratio of female soldiers, a perma-nent part of the military establishment since World War II, saw a dramatic increase.

Just as field dress changed, so did apparel worn in garrison duty. Uniform variations had been developed for both men and women to enhance pride by providing more stylish attire, including the shift from olive drab to the new shade of Army Green, derived from the distinctive rifleman's color of the nineteenth century. Rank insignia evolved as the number of senior NCO grades increased. For example, the traditional position of sergeant major returned as a rank. Two time-honored devices were used -- the star indicated the rank, while the addition of a wreath indicated the duty position of command sergeant major. Enlisted disc insignia were still worn on the collar. Here the instructor's branch, the Women's Army Corps, is reflected by the Greek goddess of wisdom, Pallas Athena, worn on the left collar, with the "US" on the right.

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Ready to Respond
Germany, 198

Leadership and technical competence are dual characteristics of the NCO, especially in modern combat when units are often widely sepa-rated and armed with very sophisticated weapons. The Army recognized the fact that today's NCOs must be both effective leaders and skilled technicians when it eliminated the distinction between sergeants and specialists. Here the corporal preparing for guard duty and the sergeant communicating with the home base are modern, complete NCOs, combining both types of skills.

During the 1980s the Army underwent one of the most intensive peace-time technological transformations in its history. From the M1 Abrams tank to the field ration, the Meal, Ready to Eat (MRE), the most basic items of Army life were modernized. Increased emphasis on the need for every soldier to be prepared for combat is reflected in the fact that both soldiers wear the battle dress uniform (BDU), which incorporates many features to enhance survivability in combat. These garments for the first time provided all troops with camouflage, while the properties of the fabric itself and the use of miniature rank insignia on the collar reduced the chance of detection. Preparation for battle was extended to an improved protective vest and new style of helmet. The fast-drying nylon Load Bearing Equipment (LBE) and redesigned boot drew upon the best features of commercial hiking and camping gear to extend the soldier's capabilities in a field environment.

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CMH Pub 70-36, The Noncommissioned Officer: Images of an Army in Action
Full-color reproductions of eighteen paintings done by a team of Army artists
that depict the history of the noncommissioned officer in the U.S. Army
with an accompanying guidebook to the print set.
GPO S/N 008-029-00178-1

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