The Military Senior Enlisted Adviser

By | January 31, 2020

[January 31, 2020]  Leadership requires a joint-cooperative effort between the person in charge and those that are responsible for that leader’s success.  In the U.S. military, there are positions occupied by the most senior enlisted service member that acts as an adviser to the commanding officer.  A senior enlisted adviser (SEA) fulfills the role of coach, mentor, and teacher; all rolled into one.

A senior adviser counsels the commander on all enlisted matters affecting training, utilization, the health of the force, and enlisted professional development.  Although not required, but often practiced, the SEA also advises the commanding officer’s staff.  The position is crucial for the success of the commander and the unit.

In all my decades of service, I most relieve upon my Command Sergeant Major more than any other person to ensure the unit was running smoothly.  The SEA also made sure I was not blindsided by a brewing problem that might have been recognized sooner.  Commanders and SEAs are problem solvers.  Their primary task is to care for their troops and to get the mission accomplished.

There are several standard features of the SEA.  For example, all SEAs are highly experienced, tested in a harsh environment, and proven to be reliable.  They are cheerleaders for the organization but are also willing to “buck the trend” to keep the commander informed.  That is why the relationship between commander and SEA is both close and highly confidential.

Another feature of any enlisted adviser is intelligent.  They are smart, articulate, and focused.  Only once did I see a SEA who did not meet these criteria and that Sergeant Major was relieved of his duties quickly.  Most SEAs have advanced college degrees and certifications in several academic fields.  For example, my Engineer unit’s Sergeant Major had a Master’s degree in Civil Engineering.

Enlisted advisers are also hard-working, careful, and diligent.  They are often the first into work and the last to leave.  They have their noses to the ground to pick up anything out of the ordinary or could affect the performance of the unit.  Since their job is to help care for the enlisted members of their military unit, quickly identifying problems is a paramount skill set.  Conscientiousness pays off in the long run and helps the commander accomplish the unit’s mission as efficiently and smoothly as possible.

Trust and confidence are the glue that holds this commander-SEA entity together.  Without trust, the unit and its members will suffer because organizational friction (those little things that suck your energy) will inhibit mission accomplishment.  All successful human interaction is predicated on the idea of trust and confidence.

We have witnessed in the news over the past few days, developments about how U.S. President Donald Trump’s senior adviser John Bolton made several unflattering accusations.  If true, Bolton is an example of someone who has violated the most basic trust between a commander (President Trump) and his senior adviser (John Bolton).


Note: In a recent announcement, Senior Enlisted Adviser to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Command Sergeant Major John W. Troxell announced new and unique insignia for that position.  He serves as the principal adviser to the chairman on matters of the enlisted joint force.  This article’s thumbnail is a photo of Command Sergeant Major Troxell while giving an announcement at the Pentagon.

Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

19 thoughts on “The Military Senior Enlisted Adviser

  1. Lynn Pitts

    I will reinforce a few points on today’s article. First, SEAs are extremely worth the expense. They are given the latitude to “fix” things before they create trouble later. Second, are smart, hard workers, well respected, and extremely focused. Third, they are approachable and likable which allows them to counsel, mentor, teach, and coach. They are really good at this. And fourth, the SEA is skilled at leadership and developing leadership in others. They will tell you often, if you ask, that their job is also to help create more leaders at the lower levels of the military.

    1. Yusaf from Texas

      Well said, Lynn. And, thanks for your service too. I think that many organizations are not doing well just because they lack this asset. Some leaders will say they can’t afford having an SEA. I agree with them and they will fail for that reasoning.

  2. Valkerie

    Good job today General Satterfield. I like today’s post.

  3. Tony Custer

    Quotable quote from today’s blog post — “They are cheerleaders for the organization but are also willing to “buck the trend” to keep the commander informed. That is why the relationship between commander and SEA is both close and highly confidential.”

    1. Joe Omerrod

      And they have the ‘authority’ to “buck the trend” too. They are the one who can go around the rules as long as they fully understand that there are ramifications. But, and this is important, they cannot go around all the rules and willy nilly violate them without the experience to fully understand the culture of the military (or whatever organization).

      1. Eva Easterbrook

        Of course, skip the administrative lead-in info and go directly to the guts of the handbook. There are many more valuable tools like this on military websites. Just look for them and you will find. However, in contrast to the US military, I can find absolutely nothing about senior advisers on the civilian side. I know they exist but nothing. Why? Maybe someone can answer this.

      2. JT Patterson

        Eva said it well. Thanks Big Al for the references. But I will add that maybe Gen. Satterfield could actually provide us with an outline of this info in some future post. This will add greater value and usefulness to his leader site (that we all read) and, I think, attract more readers from the military itself.

  4. The Kid 1945

    Enjoyed today’s article more than usual. I guess it’s because I’ve seen these senior advisors at work. They are truly helpful beyond what can be thought of. Great work here, Gen. Satterfield. Thank you for keeping up your website and posting dialy. I keep coming back.

  5. Army Captain

    As an Army officer now for over 10 years, I will say to all who read this leadership site that, yes, you are correct in the assessment that senior enlisted advisors are needed and invaluable. Thanks for another spot-on article.

    1. Bart Rhodes

      Army Cpt, thanks for reinforcing Gen. Satterfield’s points. It is good to see that another person with experience in this specific topic agrees. I was enlisted in the US Navy so didn’t have the direct experience but often saw our Chief keep things under control by explaining the important leader roles to us.

    2. Tom Bushmaster

      Hey, Army Captain, you are correct, of course, and we all appreciate your reinforcement of this blog’s themes. We’ve all been around a while on the website and can attest to its accuracy and relevance.

    1. Dr. William Blake, Sr.

      I have found that these advisors (or is it advisers) are among the most valuable to help an organization move forward by assisting the person in charge. They also solve problems at a lower level before they become bigger problems. Well done, Gen. Satterfield, keep up the great work with your leadership website.

    2. Albert Ayer

      Yes, I agree and hope there are more articles like this. Like you Dale, I’m a longtime reader of this website and plan to be for a much longer time. 👍

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