PETERSON AIR FOR BASE, Colo. -- Several U.S. military's highest-placed enlisted warfighters met in Colorado for the first Combatant Command Senior Enlisted Leader Conference recently.
Senior enlisted leaders from United States unified combatant commands attended the conference, which was themed "Layered Global Defense" and hosted by Sgt. Maj. D. Scott Frye, senior enlisted leader of North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. Attendees represented U.S. Strategic Command, U.S. Central Command, U.S. European Command, U.S. Joint Forces Command, U.S. Pacific Command and U.S. Southern Command. Their counterparts from U.S. Transportation Command and U.S. Special Operations Command were unable to attend.
Frye said that, while the members of this group often see each other at various events and meetings, this was the first conference held just for them.
"This crowd has never, ever gotten together just solely as a group of combatant command senior enlisted (leaders)," he said. "This is a historic event. It is the very first conference of its kind for this particular group."
The conference was designed "to share in great detail the mission sets associated with both NORAD and USNORTHCOM and, at the same time, be able to get theater updates" from each of the command enlisted leaders, Frye said.
Five of the nine U.S. combatant commands are regional - that is, they have geographical areas of responsibility. The lines where those geographical areas come together - for instance, where the eastern edge of USPACOM meets the western edge of USNORTHCOM - are called seams.
It's important to understand those seams, said Pacific Command's Sgt. Maj. William Kinney. "Of course, USNORTHCOM's our 'ally' over here on the eastern side," he said. "It's probably the least-known of all the combatant commands, and I think it was very beneficial for all of us to actually come here.
"Any chance we can get together, any chance we can learn about another (combatant command) is beneficial to us all," he said.
The senior enlisted leaders come from every branch of the U.S. armed forces and their duty stations are as geographically and culturally varied as, for example, Strategic Command in Nebraska and European Command in Germany. Yet the individuals themselves are "very much interconnected, especially with the global war on terror," said Central Command's Chief Master Sgt. Curtis Brownhill.
"We've got a pretty tight group," agreed STRATCOM's Master Chief Petty Officer William Nissen. "We talk, we see each other, we get together in each other's (areas of responsibility).
"We're pretty close-knit and we have a pretty good working relationship, " he added.
The enlisted leaders believe in continually working to improve those relationships.
"Just because we have 30 years in the Army or the Navy or the Air Force or the Marines, doesn't mean we know everything," said NORTHCOM's Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Balch. "It's vitally important that we communicate with each other and see each other and share ideas."
The conference helped to "build mutual understanding and a unity of effort between all the combatant commands," said JFCOM's Army Command Sgt. Maj. Mark Ripka.
Although six of the leaders at the Colorado conference already knew each other from earlier gatherings, EUCOM's Army Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Bartelle just took over his position in February and was meeting everyone for the first time.
"It was very educational for me, especially being new in the business," he said. "I was able to garner a great deal of information from my peers."
During the final briefing of the conference, NORAD-NORTHCOM Commander Adm. Timothy Keating thanked the senior enlisted leaders for the support they provide to their commanders, using his relationship with Frye as an example.
"The advice, counsel and friendship that I share and enjoy with Scott Frye is of inestimable value," he said. "Although he is a Marine Corps sergeant major, his blood runs joint. That's very beneficial and helpful and valuable to us in this position.
"I'm sure your bosses feel the same way about you."