Command Sergeants Major, a Reality in the Brazilian Army
By Marcos Ommati/Diálogo March 21, 2018
The role of command sergeant major is nascent in the Brazilian Army (EB, in Portuguese). It was established in 2015 to grant more authority and responsibility to noncommissioned officers (NCOs) by allowing them to participate in decision-making and advising the command of military units.
Before its implementation, EB tested the new role in a pilot project in which Command Sergeant Major Osmar Crivelatti took part. The test lasted one year and was used to determine the effectiveness and observe the practical results of the role being developed. EB grasped its viability and began to implement the process due for completion in late 2018, with the deployment of command sergeants major to units initially established in the plan. During a visit to the Noncommissioned Officer Academy (EASA, in Portuguese), located in Cruz Alta, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, Diálogo spoke with Command Sgt. Maj. Crivelatti—who works side by side with General Eduardo Villas Bôas, commander of EB, in Brasília—about the new role.
Diálogo: Why did the Brazilian Army see the need to create the command sergeant major role?
Brazilian Army Command Sergeant Major Osmar Crivelatti: Over time, the Brazilian Army, as a permanent national institution, sought to adapt to the nation’s needs. To fulfill its mission, it seeks to value its human resources. Therefore, that was a way to enhance the career of NCOs. It was a way to elicit the knowledge, needs, and opinions that are often hidden within the troop, experiences learned from a lengthy career.
Diálogo: Did exchanges between EB and other armies assist in making the decision to create this new role as a type of blueprint to be followed?
Command Sgt. Maj. Crivelatti: EB had exchange programs with other countries for a long time, this is well known—officer exchanges, NCO exchanges. Our NCOs visited and participated in exchanges with South American countries, the United States, and other countries in the world and certainly, at some point, we seek these experiences. Our officers and NCOs in foreign countries identified the use and functions of the command sergeant major in other armies and pursued these experiences. It wasn’t just the process of bringing the idea and adapting it here, directly in our Army. We had to develop a process to create a role that was suited to the institutional culture of EB. The experience and model integrate aspects that we seek in other armies, but it had to be adapted to our culture. So, it’s not exactly what you see in another army. It’s probably difficult to compare with other armies because we don’t really have in-depth knowledge of them. We would need a thorough study to be able to make a comparison. The fact is that we had to adapt it to our culture.
Diálogo: Can it be said that this role is in development or was it already developed and just needs to be furthered?
Command Sgt. Maj. Crivelatti: We are all learning. The command is learning, command sergeants major and troops are learning to coexist with and adapt. But, I believe in the vision, and that development is here to stay. It only needs to evolve. But for that, we have to take good care of that idea. In our role, we need to do things that the Army really needs. Because it’s a role that will add value to the career of NCOs, distinguish service members for their skills, performance, and attitudes. But, I think that what is invaluable is what it will produce for the troops, for the institution. So it’s a concept that’s here to stay.
Diálogo: We are at EASA, the NCO academy, which is a national and even international point of reference. Could you talk a little about the Brazilian NCO academies?
Command Sgt. Maj. Crivelatti: Today, the Brazilian Army has three NCO academies. We started with the NCO at Arms Academy [in Três Corações, Minas Gerais], to prepare combat NCOs. They spend two years in training there, with theoretical, a lot of practical, and leadership training to become an NCO that from the start, will lead a combat team in the troops. We have another school, the Logistics NCO Academy [EsSLog, in Portuguese], which trains logistics NCOs in the entire range of logistics and is located in Rio de Janeiro. And we have the Army Aviation Training Academy (in Taubaté, São Paulo), which is a little smaller and specifically trains NCOs who are aviation mechanics, technicians who work with Army helicopters.
Diálogo: And for someone to get into these academies, he or she must take an exam, and after some 10 years as an NCO come to EASA to sharpen their skills?
Command Sgt. Maj. Crivelatti: That’s it exactly. They participate in an open selection process. The ones who pass will attend the NCO training academies. From there, individuals return, go to the Army, and continue their professionalization, because we have various courses. We have several training academies.
Diálogo: Can you give some examples?
Command Sgt. Maj. Crivelatti: I can mention the Jungle Warfare Training Center in Manaus, Amazonas, where NCOs graduate as jungle warriors. Additionally, we have the Paratrooper Training Academy. If the NCO seeks to be a combat paratrooper, he takes the paratrooper course and deploys in the Army’s paratrooper units. Therefore, it’s a specialization, continuous training, and after 10–11 years, as a staff sergeant, which is a career requirement for future promotions, he comes here to EASA, to complete the training course. Combatants, those who graduate from the NCO at Arms Academy, over in Minas Gerais, come here. The logistics training, including the aviation personnel, is done at EsSLog over in Rio de Janeiro. But, it’s continuous training over the course of their career. After the training course, we continue these specializations. We have several courses that a service member can take within a range of specializations that EB needs.
Diálogo: But a service member cannot get to command sergeant major without attending EASA or EsSLog before, correct?
Command Sgt. Maj. Crivelatti: That’s right. To move up the career ladder, from graduating as a staff sergeant to first sergeant, one of the requirements for promotion to first sergeant is to take the NCO Training Course. Later, to be able to reach command sergeant major—after going through one of these training academies—the NCO must combine attributes, gain knowledge, specialize throughout his career, and after being a long-standing first sergeant, a sergeant major, he may be considered for command sergeant major of certain units, within the process. Then, he comes back here to EASA, where we have the Command Sergeant Major Course that he will take to acquire more fundamentals, more of a basis for his position. For that reason, EASA is also now known as the Command Sergeants Major House.
Diálogo: To be commandant of EASA’s student body, do NCOs have to take the Sergeant Major Course in the United States?
Command Sgt. Maj. Crivelatti: Yes. EB seeks to tap into that experience. The commandant of the student body here is an NCO. We have had this culture for a long time, of NCO training being conducted by NCOs. And why is it that an EB NCO attended the Sergeant Major Course in the United States? For the experience; to develop and improve—so to speak—the preparation and training of our NCOs here.
Diálogo: Regarding the study of languages and international exchanges, do you consider them fundamental for an EB NCO to further advance in his career?
Command Sgt. Maj. Crivelatti: Today, we advocate that a lot, for the Army to be able to send NCOs abroad for exchanges, courses. It’s fundamental to know another language. It’s necessary to communicate. Currently, EB sponsors this; it encourages NCOs to commit to studying languages—Spanish, here at our border; English, which is fundamental for us. Each army needs a professional to accomplish its institutional and national mission. It’s difficult to compare a Brazilian Army NCO with one of the Chilean Army, or of the U.S. Army. Each country counts on the professionals needed to accomplish its mission. Thus, we have education, training, and preparation to accomplish the Brazilian Army’s mission, together with Brazilian society. The U.S. NCO has the same elements to accomplish the U.S. Army’s mission, together with American society. So, I believe that there are no comparisons between the service members of one army and another. They are professionals dedicated to their careers within each army, within each country. That, I think, is essential. And I encountered more than professionals in other armies, when I was working. They were more than professionals; they were friends, because often we were deployed together. For example, I had experience in Haiti, and that was fundamental, that exchange we had with the younger ones, taking courses in other countries, being instructors, often having training exchanges. That provides us with the ability to perform operations together. For example, we were deployed in the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti [MINUSTAH], with an array of armies from several countries, and this worked very well because we already had some knowledge of how that army worked, of how that soldier from another army worked. Therefore, I think that what EB does in regard to this exchange with other countries is fundamental.
Diálogo: Talking about exchanges, how do you view the presence of a U.S. Army NCO [Master Sergeant Luciano Garcia] here within EASA?
Command Sgt. Maj. Crivelatti: For me it’s very important. The presence of a U.S. NCO here provides our NCO with a vision of what a U.S. Army NCO is like, which is a global army point of reference. And it’s an exchange in that we have the U.S. NCO collaborating with training and serving as an example to our NCOs. Likewise, we have a Brazilian NCO in the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy (USASMA), in Texas, gaining experience. He’s a point of reference for the U.S. Army, to promote this exchange, this alliance I spoke of earlier. So, I think that his presence here and the presence of our NCO in the United States are fundamental. It’s fundamental for motivation and serves as an example for others.
Diálogo: How do you view the presence of international students here at EASA and in other Brazilian NCO training academies? Does this have any influence in shaping their curricula?
Command Sgt. Maj. Crivelatti: No, the curriculum is the same. What we teach our NCOs is taught to their NCOs in the same manner. Just like when we go to other armies, it’s a way to pursue the military culture of that country. So we do not adapt our training especially for them. We also seek to learn from their experience. I will mention, as an example, the Command Sergeants Major Course. Last year we had some foreigners, and they brought experiences of their army’s command sergeant major role. That was important, it was enriching for the course. So the curriculum is not customized. They come, they learn what we do; we glean information from them and from what they contribute to help us. And when we go to other countries, we see that their curriculum doesn’t change either, and that’s important.
Diálogo: With regard to gender integration, when will we see a female command sergeant major in the Brazilian Army?
Command Sergeant Maj. Crivelatti: That’s an extremely important matter. That’s an issue EB has worked a great deal to address. The Army has embraced gender integration for a long time in support roles. Today, EB incorporates women in defense. We have female NCOs at EsSLog who, at the end of the year, will be sergeants joining the troops. We have officer cadets that are at the Agulhas Negras Military Academy, who, four years from now [the length of the course], will be in units as officers in combat logistics. So, that’s very important. It will be a natural process. I believe that over time, with gender integration, they will move up in their career, they will improve. And it will be natural that, when they are long-standing sergeants first class, when they are sergeant majors, in a female unit in which there is a command sergeant major, they will get to where I am, of command sergeant major of the Army. That’s a natural process. Today, in EB there is no differentiation in gender roles, there is no difference in the Army that prevents a person from being able to work as an armed professional, defending his or her homeland as a soldier.
Diálogo: Obviously, this transformation process, the institution of the role of command sergeant major, is nascent. In your opinion, what’s missing? What will be the next steps for this professionalization of the Brazilian Army NCO to be complete?
Command Sgt. Maj. Crivelatti: Time. We need time to really be able to finish the implementation so that everyone really has an understanding, because it deals with a change in culture. A change in culture doesn’t take place overnight. We have an institutional culture, as I mentioned before. The Brazilian Army originated in 1648, in Guararapes, in the state of São Paulo. And, over time, it adapted, it evolved, it prioritized its human resources. But, what is more important is an understanding. We need to evolve to understand the mission and that’s something only time will bring. The features of the NCO career are specific to the Brazilian Army. Perhaps it’s different in other countries, but it meets the necessary requirements to accomplish the mission of our Army. So, it’s still in the adaptation phase. We need time. And we are working for that to happen.
Diálogo: They say in the U.S. Army that the NCO is the backbone of the institution. What about in Brazil?
Command Sgt. Maj. Crivelatti: I would say, if you allow me to quote our Army Commander, General Villas Bôas. He’s very wise in saying that “the NCO is the foundation that supports the structure of our Army.” Instead of a backbone, we have a solid foundation that supports the structure of our Army. It’s really our soldiers, our NCOs, who have the ability to do that.