2021 NCO Professional Reading List

Every NCO and Army leader for that matter ought to have an annual reading list. Most NCOs will begin their careers team leaders. A team leader is an often overwhelming position for a new NCO, but thousands have done it previously. All CSMs were once new NCOs and many have shared their wisdom through memoirs and other books that make excellent reading.

So you may be asking yourself what books should an NCO read? Or maybe more specifically asking for a reading list for NCOs? Below you will find our 2021 reading list for NCOs, although feel free to read them in any future year as well 😉

All of these books were hand selected because they are the best books for NCO reading in 2021.

Before we get started, consider all of the time you have running, in the gym, and/or commuting to and from work/school. Consider a free trial to Amazon’s Audible Plus, the largest all-you-can-listen membership that offers access to thousands of titles, including a vast array of audiobooks, podcasts and originals that span genres, lengths, and formats. We highly recommend utilizing Audible Plus, make your commute time count!

 Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead

Cover art

Call Sign Chaos is the account of Jim Mattis’ storied career, from wide-ranging leadership roles in three wars to ultimately commanding a quarter of a million troops across the Middle East. Along the way, Mattis recounts his foundational experiences as a leader, extracting the lessons he has learned about the nature of warfighting and peacemaking, the importance of allies, and the strategic dilemmas – and short-sighted thinking – now facing our nation. He makes it clear why America must return to a strategic footing so as not to continue winning battles but fighting inconclusive wars. 

BLUF for NCOs: Read this book to understand the past twenty years of military conflict and the importance of knowing why you are fighting and whom your allies are.

Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action

Start with Why shows that the leaders who’ve had the greatest influence in the world all think, act, and communicate the same way – and it’s the opposite of what everyone else does. Sinek calls this powerful idea The Golden Circle, and it provides a framework upon which organizations can be built, movements can be led, and people can be inspired. And it all starts with why.

BLUF for NCOs: Read this book to learn the importance of and how to provide purpose to your Soldiers.

Red Platoon

In 2009, Clinton Romesha of Red Platoon and the rest of the Black Knight Troop were preparing to shut down Command Outpost (COP) Keating, the most remote and inaccessible in a string of bases built by the US military in Nuristan and Kunar in the hope of preventing Taliban insurgents from moving freely back and forth between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Three years after its construction, the army was finally ready to concede what the men on the ground had known immediately: it was simply too isolated and too dangerous to defend. 

On October 3, 2009, after years of constant smaller attacks, the Taliban finally decided to throw everything they had at Keating. The ensuing fourteen-hour battle—and eventual victory—cost eight men their lives. 

Red Platoon is the riveting firsthand account of the Battle of Keating, told by Romesha, who spearheaded both the defense of the outpost and the counterattack that drove the Taliban back beyond the wire and received the Medal of Honor for his actions. 

BLUF for NCOs: Read this book to understand the responsibility thrust upon the shoulders of combat platoon leaders and how the greatest Americans rise to the occasion in combat.

Top of the Hill: Dabo Swinney and Clemson’s Rise to College Football Greatness

Amazon.com: Top of the Hill: Dabo Swinney and Clemson's Rise to ...

When Dabo Swinney officially took over Clemson football for the 2009 season, it was considered a good program that couldn’t quite recapture the greatness of the Danny Ford era. Dabo had spent his entire life as an underdog, but his defiant grit pushed him past personal hardships and professional adversity. His simple formula—faith, family, forgiveness, fortitude, and fun—pushed the Clemson football program past its potential and to the next level, taking the Tigers to 10 bowl games and four ACC championships, earning three College Football Playoff appearances, and most importantly, capturing the 2016 national championship. In Top of the Hill: Dabo Swinney and Clemson’s Rise to College Football Greatness, Greenville News sports columnist and Clemson insider Manie Robinson traces Dabo’s coaching ascension along Clemson football’s return to glory, going behind the scenes of one of the powerhouse programs in the country.

BLUF for NCOs: Read this book to understand how to improve an organization’s culture and the importance of a transformative leader.

Black Hearts: One Platoon’s Descent into Madness in Iraq’s Triangle of Death

This is the story of a small group of soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division’s fabled 502nd Infantry Regiment—a unit known as “the Black Heart Brigade.” Deployed in late 2005 to Iraq’s so-called Triangle of Death, a veritable meat grinder just south of Baghdad, the Black Hearts found themselves in arguably the country’s most dangerous location at its most dangerous time.

Hit by near-daily mortars, gunfire, and roadside bomb attacks, suffering from a particularly heavy death toll, and enduring a chronic breakdown in leadership, members of one Black Heart platoon—1st Platoon, Bravo Company, 1st Battalion—descended, over their year-long tour of duty, into a tailspin of poor discipline, substance abuse, and brutality.

Four 1st Platoon soldiers would perpetrate one of the most heinous war crimes U.S. forces have committed during the Iraq War—the rape of a fourteen-year-old Iraqi girl and the cold-blooded execution of her and her family. Three other 1st Platoon soldiers would be overrun at a remote outpost—one killed immediately and two taken from the scene, their mutilated corpses found days later booby-trapped with explosives.

Black Hearts is an unflinching account of the epic, tragic deployment of 1st Platoon. Drawing on hundreds of hours of in-depth interviews with Black Heart soldiers and first-hand reporting from the Triangle of Death, Black Hearts is a timeless story about men in combat and the fragility of character in the savage crucible of warfare. But it is also a timely warning of new dangers emerging in the way American soldiers are led on the battlefields of the twenty-first century.

BLUF for NCOs: Read this book to understand the importance of character and making moral choices as a small unit leader.

Starship Troopers

In Robert A. Heinlein’s controversial Hugo Award-winning bestseller, a recruit of the future goes through the toughest boot camp in the Universe—and into battle against mankind’s most alarming enemy…

Johnnie Rico never really intended to join up—and definitely not the infantry. But now that he’s in the thick of it, trying to get through combat training harder than anything he could have imagined, he knows everyone in his unit is one bad move away from buying the farm in the interstellar war the Terran Federation is waging against the Arachnids.

Because everyone in the Mobile Infantry fights. And if the training doesn’t kill you, the Bugs are more than ready to finish the job…

“A classic…If you want a great military adventure, this one is for you.”—All SciFi:

What SMA Grinston has to say: I read this one when I was a staff sergeant. I remember my battalion commander making all the officers read it and I wanted to learn something alongside them. This was another controversial book when it was written. Heinlein uses science fiction to talk about what it means to be a citizen; he addresses the need for corrective training and several other issues that we see playing out today. This book is a fun read and makes for a great discussion between leaders in a unit.

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