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NEWS | Dec. 15, 2023

Power in team building: Civil affairs command hosts NCOPDS Session

By Sgt. 1st Class Gregory Williams 353rd Civil Affairs Command

“If anybody has found the magic sauce, please share it with us because we haven't found it yet,” Command Sgt. Maj. Clifford Lo, senior enlisted advisor for the 353rd Civil Affairs Command, said as he sat looking outside of a ferry window. “Team building matters because it helps us do a better job with what we're doing, which is developing and mentoring each other.”

As the boat gently rocks through small waves, a group of Soldiers take pictures of the Statue of Liberty, capturing memorable moments during this senior enlisted leader gathering. First stop, the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, next stop is team cohesion toward a stronger Army.

The 353rd Civil Affairs Command, a U.S. Army Reserve unit out of Ft. Wadsworth, Staten Island, hosted 18 Soldiers during a non-commissioned officer professional development system session here on December 2, 2023. The NCOPDS session allowed senior enlisted leaders within the command an opportunity to exchange ideas and best leadership practices not only to help build professional relationships but develop systems that support positive team atmospheres.

“It is kind of like a business, but the big difference between the military versus the private sector is we can't just hire a command sergeant major off the street, everyone has to be grown from within,” Lo said. “For us as senior enlisted advisors, it helps advise our bosses better and do our job more effectively.”

Trading in boots for sneakers and uniforms for button-down shirts, the group comprised of command sergeant majors and master sergeants walked through the Wall Street area, conversing in smaller teams amongst themselves. While some groups shared their prior New York experiences, others talked about their excitement about going on a team outing outside of the office.

Team building can happen at any echelon as processes become more refined, increasing unit productivity, enhancing communication, and increasing morale for existing leaders. An off-base trip can open the door for more meaningful conversations as soldiers progress through the ranks.

“It’s pretty funny because when you get to a certain level, you realize you can’t always go out with the same crowd of soldiers and use the same language you once used back in the day,” Command Sgt. Maj. Nicholas Palmer, senior enlisted advisor for the 16th Psychological Operations Battalion, said. “This is good for camaraderie and to get together to share personal experiences while bonding. It’s good for soldiers to see us as real people.”

Palmer said networking is everything because it helps with career goal setting and passing on information vital to shaping tomorrow’s leaders and retaining talent.

“Networking helps you know what's going on in your sphere,” Palmer said. “One of the first things I tell new soldiers who come into the Army is that it's a big, beautiful Army with so many opportunities, but you must know where to look. Networking will help you know where those opportunities are.”

Arriving at the 9/11 Memorial Museum, some Soldiers dispersed into pairs while others opted to roam the grounds alone for personal reasons. With the team building session about to hit a crescendo, leaders reflected on why they decided to raise their right arm in the first place.

“I'm a firefighter in my civilian job and get a little bit emotional when I think about what the firefighters went through when they were here,” Palmer said. “Everybody has their civilian experiences in the Reserve that they take with them on their deployments, so this session is a great way of tying it all together for me.”

Lo said every unit has its own mission set, but taking care of Soldiers is a common mission set within the Army. Lo said sessions like these help participants develop themselves, which is essential to personal progression as soldiers never know where their careers might lead them.

“I tell enlisted soldiers all the time, you don't know who you're sitting with,” Lo said. “You might be sitting next to a member of Congress, the future chief of staff of the Army, who knows. For me, I didn't know that I was going to become a command sergeant major when I joined 30 years ago as a private first class. It’s as I always say: We're all going to row, and we're all going to paddle, but we have to paddle together in the same direction.”