The professional development of the Army’s Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs) has lately taken front and center stage with the introduction of NCO 2020, an NCO development strategy designed to give NCOs the leaderships skills necessary in a smaller, more agile U.S. military. Indeed, the very first sentence in the NCO 2020 Strategy White Paper—“Leader development is fundamental to the readiness of our Army”—implicitly conveys the importance on cultivating leaderships skills and mindsets in NCOs.

But the notion of encourage the professional development of NCOs is not a 21st-century revelation. On April 10, 1981, Secretary of the Army John O. Marsh established the Non-Commissioned Officers Professional Development Ribbon as way to recognize the achievements of NCOs who had successfully completed of courses approved by the United States Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC). Soldiers serving in the Active Army, U.S. Army Reserve, and the Army National Guard are eligible to take part in the courses.

The ribbon itself is awarded upon Completion of the first program, the Basic Leader Course (BLC), currently held at the Fort Bliss NCO Academy. Before NCOs can enroll in the BLC, however, they must first complete the Structured Self-Development (SSD) Level I course, which provides foundational principles of communications, promote strong values and character traits, tests candidates’ technical and tactical competence, and encourages NCOs to take initiatives for advancement when the opportunities are presented.

Upon graduation of subsequent courses—most of which require attendant SSD courses as prerequisites—NCOs are authorized to wear numerical devices on the ribbon indicating the level of NCO Professional Development they have achieved. Originally, there were a total of five NCOPD courses with corresponding numerical device 2 through 5. But in 1989, TRADOC decided that the introductory program at the time, First Sergeant Course, was not to be recognized as part of the Professional Development Training System; since that time, only numerals 2 through 4 are authorized for wear.

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