"The choice of non-commissioned officers is an object of the greatest importance: The order and discipline of a regiment depend so much upon their behavior, that too much care cannot be taken in preferring none to that trust but those who by their merit and good conduct are entitled to it. Honesty, sobriety, and a remarkable attention to every point of duty, with a neatness in their dress, are indispensable requisites ...."
Baron Von Steuben: Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States, 1779
The success of any military unit ultimately rests on the actions of the private soldier. These actions are direct reflections of his state of training, morale, and motivation to do the job. From time immemorial, the NCO has been the person most responsible for training and motivating the Private. He does this through being trained and motivated himself and passing this on to his men through continual communication. These communication channels stay open only so long as the NCO has the respect of the officers over him and the men in his charge. He gains this respect by showing respect to his superiors and subordinates equally and by presenting a positive attitude especially in the most trying times.
The purpose of this article is to familiarize the Non-Commissioned Officers (Sergeants, Corporals, and those acting in these capacities) on the duties and obligations inherent in these positions. This will allow you to function competently on and off the field and fulfill your functions of communicating with, training, and motivating your men. These instructions are based on both 20th century Army and reenacting experience. This is certainly not the "final word," but does represent the policies, spoken and unspoken, that the l9th Alabama Infantry Regiment has had in place for a number of years. These guidelines are based on common sense, courtesy, and the enjoyment of all, and THEY WORK!
Off field duties consist mostly of maintaining contact with your superiors and subordinates and preparations for events.
1. Plan meals. This is typically done by the Captain or lSGT, but sometimes will be done at the platoon or section level.
2. Study the drill for the Schools of the Soldier and Company. Be prepared to teach the movements precisely by the numbers.
3. At section level (platoon level if anticipating low attendance) pick a deserving (and willing) Private, send him a copy of one drill movement and ask him to teach it. This need not be done every event.
4. Call subordinates before maximum effort events or as asked for other events. Corporals should automatically call their section starting Sunday or Monday before an event. This timing allows for callbacks and arrangement of equipment loans, rides, etc. Sergeants should call Corporals to advise them of meal plans and any unusual equipment or other requirements. In general the following information should be requested or passed along:
a. Is section member going and if so when will he arrive?
b. Describe event if necessary - US, CS, both; expected activities (bayonet drill, full pack march, etc.); weather; camping arrangements; civilian activities (ball, etc.); any problems with late arrival.
c. Is he bringing other family members/guests? Do they need any period civilian clothing or equipment?
d. Where will he camp (authentic, modern, motel)?
e. If he will arrive early, tell where to go to await arrival of tents and NCOs.
f. Does he have all items of equipment (US, CS, civilian)?
g. Tell him how much ammunition to bring.
h. Tell him if sutlers will be available (if he needs equipment/ammo).
i. Does he want to carpool, either furnishing or needing a ride? When can he leave for event?
j. Advise him of meals furnished and what food he should bring.
k. Advise him of any special equipment he should bring (ax, skillet, dishwashing soap, etc.)
l. Remind minors to bring a signed parental permission slip and medical release.
5. Call next higher in chain about:
a. Rides needed or available to event.
b. Equipment needed or available for event. Don't forget the civilians!
c. Your non-attendance or inability to make required calls. Someone will have to be put in charge.
d. Sicknesses, births, school programs, or other significant events affecting your men.
e. Any member wanting to go to a non-scheduled event. Arrangements will be made for brigading with good unit.
6. The 1 SGT will make a roster and advise the Captain.
A. IN CAMP
1. The first NCO at the event takes charge of personnel and sees to the camp setup location, vehicle unloading, tent setup (if available), firewood and fire, straw, water, vehicle parking.
2. The field lSGT will assign camp duties and times to platoons/sections/individuals. Duties include Battalion/ Brigade HQ guard, company guard, firewood, water, KP, and others as appropriate.
3. The field lSGT is responsible for all formations such as reveille, work, drill, and battle.
4. The field 1SGT will assign brigaded men to platoons/sections. You must make all efforts to welcome them and see to their comfort the same as you would for your own men. For this event they ARE your men. Advise them of the schedule including drill and extra duties. (It is at their option whether they participate in company extra duties. Battalion extra duties and all drills are not optional.)
5. Know where your men are. Corporals must insist that their men tell them where they are going and approximately how long they will be gone. Assure that your men are properly equipped and on time for formations and extra duties and remind men leaving camp to return on time. The Platoon Sergeants must know generally where their sections and Corporals are. In the absence of a Section Corporal the Platoon Sergeant must either assume his duties or appoint a responsible Private as acting Corporal.
6. Check that the men are eating and drinking sufficient water to ward off heat injuries.
7. Correct bad conduct - loud talk after taps, profane language around women and children, and any abuse in word and deed must be stopped. Racial slurs voiced openly and belligerently reflect very poorly on your unit, endanger the entire future of reenacting, and thus must be stopped.
8. Assure hot water and cleaning materials are available to clean mess gear and rifles. See that the men use them.
9. Constantly check authenticity. Camp authenticity is everyone's responsibility but particularly the NCOs. Some lack of authenticity usually occurs during meals but it can be held to a minimum, and at all other times authenticity standards must be preserved. Non-authentic items must stay out of sight, cars must be quickly and properly parked, drinks must be in period cups, trash must be removed or out of sight. Individual authenticity must be checked as well. Although some accommodation must be made for recruits, modern eyeglasses and modern footwear should disappear as rapidly as practical. No wristwatches may be worn, and so forth. The list is endless but the point is that if you see something out of place it is your duty to fix it or have it fixed. A DUTY SEEN IS A DUTY TO BE DISCHARGED.
10. Talk to spectators and urge your men to do the same. Explain things to them even if unasked since they usually do not know enough to ask. A five to ten minute talk can double their appreciation for and understanding of what we do. Also you may be talking to your next recruit!
11. Oversee the speedy dismantling of camp when the event is over. No one leaves without the Commander's permission before ALL are packed!
12. Keep your men informed. Know what is happening and going to happen; call them together and explain delays and changes as soon as possible. You should be the source of much of their knowledge.
1. The Section Corporal will be in charge of assuring that his section can perform the School of the Soldier drill. As far as practical each section will be allowed 15 to 30 minutes for drill each morning. This may be only for new recruits or can involve the entire section. An experienced Private can be used to train a new recruit if the Corporal has other duties or is involved in drilling the rest of the section. New recruits should be integrated as soon as possible into the section.
2. Have the selected Private teach his assigned movement at section drill.
3. Platoon Sergeants will also be allowed 15 to 30 minutes for drill in the School of the Company as practical. In cases where the sections are fairly well drilled, the Platoon Sergeant may dispense with section drill in favor of platoon drill only. Corporals may assist at the discretion of the Platoon Sergeant.
4. Inspect the rifle for cleanliness and function. Check for half cock, full cock, trigger and hammer operation, loose parts, lodged rings (if weapon has been live-fired), cleanliness of barrel, nipple fouling, and general appearance.
5. Check for cartridges and caps. (Prompt the men to get some if short.)
C. IN BATTLE
1. Check your men for equipment, water, cartridges, and caps before formation. Arrange to have men borrow (and pay back) ammunition if needed.
2. ASSURE FIELD SAFETY. THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT JOB IN REENACTING!
a. Loaded rifles must be on half cock.
b. Rifles must not be fully cocked until command READY.
c. Caps must be kept off the nipple until given the command to LOAD.
d. Hammers must not be re-cocked and expended caps removed until after the piece is charged and ready for priming.
e. Muzzles must not be pointed towards adjacent men.
f. Alignment and spacing must be preserved (13 inches between ranks as measured from the chest of the rear rank to the back or knapsack of the front rank, elbows lightly touching right and left).
g. Rear rank stepping correctly during firing (eight inches to the right when firing to the front, right and into the interval for left oblique, left and into the interval for right oblique).
h. Watch the ground often for casualties and other stumbling blocks.
i. Elevate muzzles within 15 yards of opponents, animals, or when firing over casualties.
j. No ramming except on order.
k. No wads in the barrel.
l. Discharge your weapon before taking a hit.
m. No fixing bayonets without orders.
n. No edged weapons, except swords, unsheathed.
o. No firing within 20 yards of artillery limber.
p. Stay clear of cannon with rammer on hub or leaning against tube.
q. Stay clear of ground charge wire and markers.
r. No unscripted actions especially charges and hand-to-hand combat.
3. Assure orderly alignment during movement.
4. File-closers do not relay orders in battalion formations.
5. Make corrections in undertones so orders can be heard.
6. Assign hits as requested by the senior file-closer or Company Commander.
7. Ensure casualties are not real.
8. After battle, assemble your men on the field or in camp to make sure all are accounted for and uninjured.
9. Unless it is the last battle of the event, insist that the men clean and oil their rifles before leaving camp again.
As can be seen, being a Non-Commissioned Officer is a lot more than walking around with some stripes. It involves dedication and work, most of which occurs out of uniform and off the field. It is a very important position and directly affects company morale and everyone's enjoyment of reenacting. As CPT Mike "Beartooth" Mayer (3rd Alabama Cavalry) says, "When you put on these stripes and straps, you lose 60 percent of the fun in this hobby! " Your enjoyment now comes from helping maintain a well-run company.
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