Ukraine Can’t Win Without NCOs and Junior Officers

Wes O'Donnell
7 min readNov 13, 2023
U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Beau Benton, assigned to the 21st Theater Sustainment Command fires his M4 carbine assault rifle during the 2013 Best Junior Officer Competition, sponsored by U.S. Army Europe (USAREUR) at Grafenwoehr Training Area, Bavaria, Germany, Aug. 20, 2013. Public domain

Junior commissioned officers and noncommissioned officers (NCOs) are instrumental in synchronizing and executing medium to large combat operations.

This shortcoming is one of the reasons why Ukraine has been restricted to “bite and hold” missions — where a small platoon-sized element of approximately 30 soldiers (or less) takes ground.

To be clear, I’m not equating the Ukrainian armed forces (AFU) with the train wreck on the Russian side. Ukraine’s army is expanding its capabilities, while simultaneously getting hit with manpower shortages. This puts the AFU under tremendous stress.

Meanwhile, on the Russian side, they are simply using outdated doctrine.

Still, the absence of junior officers and NCOs can be felt on all sides — both Russia and Ukraine struggled to project offensive combat power in 2023 — but this is particularly important as Ukraine adds more inexperienced soldiers to its army.

For these new soldiers to be effective, they need competent “middle managers.”

So, let’s take a look at junior officers and NCOs and examine how they contribute to a combat-capable unit.

Junior Officers

In the U.S. Army, and specifically in the infantry, junior officers are always good for a joke. At the platoon level, most infantry officers start their careers as “Platoon Leaders.”

These Platoon Leaders are typically fresh out of West Point, ROTC, or some other commissioning program and show up to the platoon as the lowest-ranking officer rank in the Army: Second Lieutenant (2LT).

The platoon has another leader, the senior enlisted soldier, called the Platoon Sergeant.

Together, the Platoon Leader and Platoon Sergeant act as a sort of mom and dad to our rowdy family.

Immediately, you may see how these two leaders might come into conflict: One leader (the Platoon Sergeant) may have 15–20 years of military experience, while the Platoon Leader has none — and yet, the Platoon Leader is technically in charge due to his rank as an officer.

We used to call these young officers “butter bars” because their rank insignia resembles a delicious stick of…

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Wes O'Donnell

Army & Air Force Veteran | Global Security guy at War is Boring, GEN, OneZero | Intel Forecaster | Law Student | TEDx Speaker | Pro-Democracy | Pro-Human Rights