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What’s wrong with the Change of Responsibility Ceremony?

Noncommissioned officers are expected to teach military customs, courtesies, and traditions, yet what do you do when customs and traditions either are non-standardized or are still emerging? I mean how can something be a tradition to share and hand down when it is only just now becoming mainstream? Today the Change of Responsibility Ceremony is one of those challenged traditions and it seems everyone is “rolling their own” ceremony. If you think about it, we did not even have E-9s until about 1960 and the command sergeant major program did not exist until 1968, the Army had regulations explaining what needs to be done when a Commander departs but little to nothing about when the senior NCO leaves, and that’s the way it’s always been done. It’s only been in the last 10-15 years or so that we have seen units conducting Change of Responsibility (COR) ceremonies.

The only place you can find the Change of Responsibility ceremony between an outgoing and incoming senior enlisted advisor attempted to be described in any formal Army doctrinal manual is in Appendix C of FM 7-21.13, The Soldiers Guide. My connection to this was while I was assisting the Sergeants Major Academy to update FM 7-22.7, The NCO Guide, was when the contractor wanted my okay to use my NCO Induction Ceremony for Appendix F. At the time the Induction Ceremony was (and still pretty much is) another non-standard and emerging Army tradition, I had written a sample how-to guide a few years earlier and they wanted to use it for the manual. After I gave my approval I told them that they also need to fix was the lack of a ceremony for the COR. He explained it was too late for the NCO Guide since it was already written and they were getting my approval afterwards, but he did tell me that they would address it in the Soldier Guide.

So, according to Topsarge (me) the COR ceremony was published alright, but the “names were changed to protect the innocent.” Ahead of it in the FM is the Change of Command ceremony, a well established and historical ceremony steeped in tradition. The COR as written looks and smells a lot like that, and it appears to me that some people ain’t happy NCOs are bastardizing the Change of Command. Forming the troops, handing out the flowers and bringing flags or guidons forward are all pretty standard, but what I want to focus on in this discussion is exactly what happens when the incoming and outgoing are eye-to-eye with the commander, and something I suggest that we need to relook and solve. Some think it should be a box formation and just shuffling who stands where like the change of command. Others think it is the exchange of the Model 1840 NCO Sword that signifies the change, and the US Army Sergeants Major Academy resurrected the halberd, advocating units use that as a symbol of NCO authority and include it in CORs.

The incoming senior enlisted leader is often the victim of the outgoings whims as their predecessor usually is managing the details, along with the staff. Usually an incoming shows up a day before the ceremony, if they are lucky they get to take part in a rehearsal or two, but they are basically being told where to stand and what to do. So if they are passing flags, swords or halberds it is usually what the last guy or gal did.

The Army is a standards-based organization and when it comes to ceremonies we are usually pretty meticulous and detailed. We hold IPRs and plan out every detail, conduct rehearsals, brief back the boss. But the COR ceremony continues to be the step-child of Army ceremonies as no one seems to be and advocate for it. The Infantry Center is the proponent for TC 3-21.5: Drill and Ceremonies (formerly FM 22-5), but I don’t think they are worried too much about it. But as I attend and see pictures of change of responsibilities I continue to see everything under the sun, and they are all unique and different and there is little standardization. Just a look at a few of the photographs in this post you can easily see the variety, and the recognition that none of them are technically wrong.

First Army Division East holds CSM Change of Responsibility Ceremony

The Command Sergeant Major is the keeper of the colors, and the honor of serving as the “color sergeant” belongs to the unit’s senior enlisted member as the “keeper of the colors.” That tradition is an inherent tradition that is well known and understood by one and all. This traces its roots to the position of Color Sergeant, the individual who on the battlefield directed the movements of a unit. The color sergeant was last seen in the US military in WWI, and they even had their own rank insignia. As such the colors are entrusted to the command sergeant major, we inherently know that, but when you use a sword there is no symbolic gesture that demonstrates it, so when does that happen? Is it at their first meeting, at the COs house, or does the commander send an email to him at the office? No, the change of responsibility is the proper time and place to relinquish the responsibility for the care of the colors, and transfer to the incoming.

Now before you shoot me for advocating the change of responsibility using unit colors, let me be clear. The box formation belongs to the commander, any bastardization of that format is a non-starter in my mind. I suggest the outgoing senior enlisted soldier forms the troops with the incoming CSM directly behind the unit colors. The outgoing CSM brings the colors forward and waits for the commander to come forward and take his post in from of the CSM. After they exchange salutes, the CSM does an about face, grabs the colors and hands them (with the colors over the commanders heart just as when he assumed command) to the commander. Then the outgoing CSM step left and takes his position NEXT to the commander (on his right), and faces about. The incoming CSM steps from around the colors and takes the place the outgoing CSM just left, and the commander hands him the colors and “entrusts” them to his care. They exchange salutes, the incoming CSM faces about and gives the colors back to the Color Guard, and the commander and the outgoing CSM march off the parade field and it’s done.

COR is about the unit, not the people who fill those positions. This is an important milestone in the unit’s history and soldiers deserve to know when their senior enlisted leaders come and go, not only know about it because a new sign is up or a chain of command photo has been swapped. Let’s get the COR written in the Training Circular and let’s have a doctrinal process that standardizes the way we mark that transition and not force leaders to guess what right looks like.

/topsarge
CSM Dan Elder, USA, Retired
@dandotelder

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Dan is a leadership coach, management consultant, and change agent who has mentored hundreds of leaders at all levels. A retired Command Sergeant Major with more than 26-years serving soldiers and their families, he has deployments to Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iraq. Dan's culminating assignment was as the senior enlisted advisor of a major Army Command (USAMC) and as the Army's senior enlisted sustainer. He served on the Sergeant Major of the Army's Board of Directors and is author, editor or advisor to a number of soldier-related books and articles. Working as an independent consultant and small-business owner in Killeen TX, Dan continues to serve soldiers as a Blogger, Podcaster and Speaker. He was selected as the first enlisted Senior Fellow for the Association of the United States Army and was inducted to the US Army Sergeants Major Academy Wall of Fame, and the US Army Ordnance Corps Hall of Fame

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29 thoughts on “What’s wrong with the Change of Responsibility Ceremony?

  1. Dan, do you have any comments or recommendations if or should CORs be done at joint commands? Example, I will in a few months take over as the JIOC (DRU to the PACOM Cdr) Senior Enlisted Leader, however not typically a wreath wearing CSM position, but with just as much responsibility. Any feedback greatly appreciated!

    Jason

    1. Jason, though not familiar with the unit I would suggest CORs are for color bearing units, including joint commands. There are nominative sergeants majors (typical on the DA staff) who work for general officers but since those senior sergeants major are not the senior enlisted advisor of a color bearing unit, the COR that I mention is not appropriate. Conversely, I have seen sergeants major assume responsibility of certain color bearing units and they should follow the COR format. Soldiers need not be present, all you need it a color guard to pull it off. I note in the article that the COR is for the unit and not the people and I do believe that there should be some appropriate method for the senior commander to present their senior noncommissioned or petty officer to the command, on duty during an ops brief or a BUB, or socially at a hail and farewell or a right-arm night at the all-ranks club.

      Thanks for the question, and for participating.
      -dan

  2. CSM Darren Oliphant

    CSM (R) Elder, I am currently a Battalion CSM. The last few years have seen a resurgence in the COR ceremony. I also have seen them done several ways. What I have seen and executed in the past was the box formation with the NCO sword. I beleive that most people who execute the ceremony with the sword is becsue it is a distinction between the commander and CSM. The colors “belong” to the commander, even thoug we are the keepers. The NCO Sword is a symbol of the NCOs unique responsibilities and position. I beleive we also use the box formation in order to maintain the close relationship with an established ceremony. You are correct where most Ihave seen and all I haev conducted look very similar to the change of command, with the NCO Sword being the big difference. Thank you for your thoughts and ideas. Very good discussion topic for an upcoming NCODP.

    1. Darren, thanks for participating and engaging here, I believe the dialog is good. Though we see things differently I hope we can both agree that 1) It’s important to signify the departure and arrival of the senior NCO of a color bearing unit with a ceremony, and 2) We need one standard.

      We would be very interested to hear any feedback from your NCOPD session on this, feel free to engage us when you are done.

  3. JSpencer

    Dan:

    Well done and I must say I agree with you. I have over the years seen just about everything at COR ceremony’s. But I must admit that I am surprised that it is not standardized.

    In my day we used the colors for the ceremony because the CSM is the in fact the keeper of the unit colors. We made sure that it was passed along with the colors always to the left of the person on the receiving end. The idea was that it covered the heart. And that required that the passer to reverse them before passing them to the next person.

    I would strongly recommend that the ceremony be standardized. I would think that best course of action would be to share this with the SMA, if you haven’t already done so. He should add it to the agenda at his next BOD meeting.

    In the meantime maybe you could put something in Army Times and or NCO Journal outlining the history of the event.

    Keep up the good work.

    Jimmie

  4. Gregg Orto

    Dan, your article with pics is steel on target. I have seen and participated in CORs and they were all different. The Army is exceptionally great at having DA policy and regulations for most everything, but we are seriously lacking in the COR. Your post comes on the heels of Hagel lamenting over the lapse in ethical standards within the military. While written formal procedures for the COR will not fix the ethical issues within our military, it is a good start in instilling pride in wearing the uniform and understanding the traditions. Those help build the foundation of our values and ethics. Good post Dan!

  5. Christopher Greca

    Gregg/Dan – I agree with you both and tried to get it added to the Drill and Ceremonies manual (TC now versus FM) for these exact reasons and was unsuccessful. I also have seen numerious variations and believe it they should be consistant but still allow for organizational/proponent specific traditions. Some pass swords, others Guidons/Colors (recieved from their Commanders as the “keepers of…”), ect… As part of the Army Profession, a FY Quarter was designated for “Traditions, Customs, and Courtesies,” and I saw this as perfect timing to include this and NCO Induction Ceremonies. Unfortunately many did not seem interested in this potential change. With this being said, I will reengage on this issue for all the right reasons. My best. Chris

  6. Patrick O'Brien

    All standardization needs to start with a longer and more comprehensive curriculum change at the CSM designee course. This central hub could then research, collect and standardize all things that would fall under the CSM’s traditional responsibility. Currently the War College in Carlisle is bringing together CSM’s to work in tandem with their Commander’s, an initiative by the SMA. This would be something that could be worked on there as well, with support from our future Commander’s.

    1. Henry Green

      Greetings my fellow CSMs, having taught the first four CSM(D) classes at the academy, I tend to agree with you somewhat. Those initial classes were plagued with many growing pains. Each class was a growing experience and I believed we were not only braking new ground, but we were also spreading new seeds. I believe that the CSM program is alive and well and there is always room for improvement. Henry “Hank” Green

  7. LTC John Oakley

    My first take on this issue is why are we doing CORs to begin with, but after reading your comments, it makes sense. Never thought about the CSM being entrusted with the colors and therefore the colors should officially be entrusted to the next CSM. Thanks for the article. I’m sold.

    1. LTC Oakley, thanks for sharing your thoughts, a perspective from those who are staring at these kinds of issues daily is important to conversation. Glad to hear that you see some value in the COR and that the discussion holds water. Regards.

      /dan

  8. LTC(R) Jeffrey Kemp

    I am not as concerned about HOW a COR is performed than I am about WHY. One of the first lessons I learned when I entered the Army in the early 1980’s is that (command) authority can be delegated, but not (command) responsibility. If this still holds true, then only Commanders can have what could be termed “change of responsibility” ceremonies,

    I have a huge amount of respect for the NCO corps and I have been fortunate to serve with some of the best in the Army, but I find this new tradition confusing and smacking of political correctness. Additionally, it is in my opinion another example of wasted time, money, effort, and manpower as CORs and Changes of Command become larger and more self-aggrandizing. While the importance of tradition should not be minimized, it should also not be used as an excuse to redirect money and assets from mission requirements, especially in these fiscally austere times.

    1. Jeffery, I too am a retired 05, and have the same comment. I was commissioned through OCS. I was in the Reserves when General Donn Starry instituted badly needed reform in “:Sergeant’s Business”. Given NCOs are now “responsible” does that mean if the unit has too many DUIs the SGM gets relieved, not the Commander?

  9. CSM Crespo

    Awesome article Dan!
    I agree with your idea for the ceremony and the need for standardization.
    To the officers who responded. Today we have command teams and when something goes wrong they are often relieved together.

    CSM Michael Crespo

  10. Actually, I think it is a perception that commanders cannot delegate responsibility. I know we have all heard that adage that commanders can delegate authority but not responsibility, the fact is the current Army Command Policy clearly states that they can. An excerpt from AR 600-20 dated 6 Nov 2014 on pg. 6 states “Commanders are responsible for everything their command does or fails to do. However, commanders subdivide responsibility and authority and assign portions of both to various subordinate commanders and staff members. In this way, a proper degree of responsibility becomes inherent in each command echelon. Commanders delegate sufficient authority to Soldiers in the chain of command to accomplish their assigned duties, and commanders may hold these Soldiers responsible for their actions. Commanders who assign responsibility and authority to their subordinates still retain the overall responsibility for the actions of their commands.” The point is not lost on me that commanders in fact retain ultimate responsibility, but in current times commanders today delegate some measure of responsibility to their command sergeants major.

    1. Jeffrey Kemp

      Since I have not read the regulation quoted, I will accept it as fact and ask the following: Since this subdivision of authority affects potentially all subordinate commanders and staff, would it not be appropriate to have a Change of Responsibilty ceremony when the battalion S-3 leaves, or the admin NCOIC, or the driver of the commander’so vehicle, for that matter? My point is that in the end, only the Commanders bears command responsibility. To single out just one of the many people the commander can subdivide authority to (per the regulation) seems unfair.

  11. Douglas Fulton

    With all due respect sir, the senior NCO does share the burden of Command. Very rarely is a Commander relieved of duty without his 1SG or CSM being relieved as well. It is a very big responsibillty shared by both the commander and his senior enlisted advisor.

    However, my point is more to your question about ‘Why’? In your line of thinking, if the senior NCO has a ceremony, everyone should have one. Why then, does the Commander have one? What is the original point? Based on your comments, I would believe that it is simply for the arrogance and flagrant need of the vain instead of the real reason why we have drill and ceremony in the first place. Visualization. The troops need to see that change. They need to know that the guy on the left is no longer the Commander and the guy on the right now is. Same thing with 1SG’s or CSM’s, they need to know who is responsible for their well-being. Sure, they could just look at the Command photo on the wall, but it is during the ceremony that the Soldiers get their first introduction to who will now be running the formations and taking care of company business. Visualization is a very powerful tool. That young Soldier in the back of the formation who can’t hear a thing anyway, at least can understand what is happening.

    If it is about calling it a Change of ‘Responsibility’ then, call it whatever you like, but for the leaders of the unit, whether it is company or higher, hold a ceremony; not just for the officer or the senior enlisted NCO, but most importantly, for the Soldiers.

  12. Ben Dayho

    CORs are a waste of already limited resources

  13. CSM Johnson

    What is everyone thoughts on 1SG’s passing the sword and CSM’s passing the colors since CSM’s are the keeper of the colors?

  14. SFC Walker, Randy

    I will have to agree that CORs are just vain, resource sucking wastes of time. Even as I sit in IPRs the outgoing CSM is normally treating it like a check the block chore that could other wise be forgotten about. If visualization is the key then hold a BN meeting where the outgoing CSM says goodbye and the incoming CSM explains what he expects from the Soldiers and NCOs. The Soldiers would get more out of that, being somewhat comfortable, then standing at attention in the hot sun or cold trying to listen to a narrator and not really being able to see the new CSM anyway. Meanwhile all the weak Soldiers are busy making the whole thing look even worse by passing out and getting dragged away by the medics. Also all the Soldiers and NCOs doing the best they can to get out of it while the BN S-3 NCOIC is pulling his/her hair out because the BC expects there to be a significant amount of the unit present because everyone THINKS this should happen. If I could call some of you out I would bet that when it was announced that CORs will start taking place, I was a young PFC, some if not all of you rolled your eyes in disgust and some if not all of you laughed and made “Poor CSM doesn’t get a ceremony” jokes. I know it happened because most of the NCOs in my motor pool did just that. Some of this is my opinion but most of this is fact.

  15. Sam Brunner

    I absolutely disagree with COR ceremonies. There is not a CSM anywhere that has command authority, yet that is what they are seeking equivalence of. There is not a CSM anywhere that has to answer to a higher command for the unit’s performance or be held accountable for any disappearance of Army property as the actual commander does. They have no UCMJ authority. Yet they like to think they are general’s themselves. Even a CSM has to salute the lowest ranking lieutenant by military law. While they partner with their commander they are not commanders, they are the senior enlisted advisor to the commander. This was never a tradition until just a few years back. So all this COR ceremony crap is someone trying to elevate their own self-importance and inflate their perceived authority.

    1. SFC Walker

      HARRUMPH!!!!

    2. A lot of “they”‘s in there, as if you are speaking of one or two specific people. Sam, if you mean they as in all the soldiers serving in command sergeant major billets or they as in the collective corps of CSMs, I would disagree that “they” think of themselves as generals (or the rank of the commander they serve). Is there examples of CSMs who act like their shit don’t stink, or feel they have more power than alloted? Hell yes, that is in every case, I have seen colonels with aides and LTCs sporing vehicle plates, yet neither are authorized. I suggest institutionally, your accusations are just that, there is no coven of E-9s plotting the take-over of unjustly earned rights and proviledges.

      I suggest that traditions have to start somewhere. When I joined the Army when the Cassion Song played people just sat and listened to it, now days any time a soldier hears the song they stand up at attention and proudly sing, it is a relatively new tradition. Just like CORs are a new tradition.

  16. Jose

    Hello, so which layout would one use for the COR?

    1. I would like to see the Army approve a COR ceremony that included the unit colors. The CSM is the “keeper” of the colors and it makes sense to me that the outgoing CSM should relinquish the unit colors to the commander, who then in turn entrusts the care of the colors to the incoming CSM.

    2. Randy Walker

      I don’t believe we need yet another dog and pony show. I’ve heard plenty of leaders complain about not having enough time to conduct training along with mandatory training requirements. If this is the case then why are we talking about adding another ceremony that Soldiers have to be taken away from training our regular business to stand in a field for? I was put in a 1SG seat and all I did was an introduction with expectations after an accountability formation. CORs are a waste of time and resources and if you cannot see that then I believe you are probably a toxic leader looking for more recognition than is required to conduct business.

  17. 1SG Spear

    What I hear is discipline, units have it or they don’t. Everyone knows good darn and well the military is full of bellyachers and poor leaders mainly because of a lack of mentorship. To the Sirs I appreciate your comment but this is not Officer business, We NCO’s have given you to much control because we have failed to do our jobs thus you have to do it for us. Those of you whimpering about a waste of money and time that is pure nonsense how often do you have this ceremony and it lasts about 1 hour counting rehearsals. You spend/waste more than that everyday/month huddled around your equipment during PMCS and still can’t figure out how to fill out a 59688-E correctly. Yes there needs to be a standard and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to come up with one and call it a day. If I have offended anyone I really don’t care because you probably are a great person but suck as a Soldier.

  18. Robert Jones, SSG(R)

    Question for the group. Recently a BG (Commandant) was given an Change of Responsibility ceremony. So the debate began of who gets a Change of Command (CoC) vs a Change of Responsibility (CoR). Of course there was two sides who entrenched themselves. One side was of the thought that CoC is for Officers (Commanding or Flagged), and Senior NCO (Company 1SG and BN CSM and above) received a COR when they departed. The other side thoughts were that non-commanding officers also receive a CoR. It is a good debate question since there are no defining regulations or doctrine that outlines this. I was curious of your thoughts? Thanks you.

    1. An interesting side note is that those who serve as GO/SES at Program Executive Offices (PEO) they conduct a Change of Charter. With that said, I feel that a change of responsibility is for those who are not in command, but do have a formal responsibility role. I wonder about the Senior Warrant Officer of the Army, I bet he or she also have a change of responsibility?

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