In a relatively recent issue of the "Army Times" there were quite a few senior NCOs who complained about the "pay gap" between Officers and Enlisted personnel. Having worn stripes and bars, I speak from my own personal experience. I got much more job satisfaction from being an enlisted soldier even though I got less pay. However when I look at the level of responsibility and accountability I think that a Sergeant Major with 28 years making about the same as a Captain with 18 years is about right.
As an officer I get much more pay, but I my job satisfaction is much less. Which does the Army need more? NCOs or Officers? I suspect a lot of NCOs simply do not understand what Officers do for a unit and either undervalue the work of officers or overvalue their own work. In some cases enlisted men do work very hard, but it has been my experience that they have had to work so hard because there was no officer to fill the staff job because of shortages in officer personnel.
The answer is that you cannot have an effective Army without NCO and Officers. Over the history of our military we have changed the relationship between Officer and Enlisted a number of times. Did you know that the positions of "Platoon Leader" and "Platoon Sergeant" were created at the same time in WWI? Up until then the Company was the lowest level of tactical unit.
Today the Squad and even Team is functioning with quite a bit of tactical autonomy. Does that mean that Staff Sergeants and Sergeants should be paid more? No. It means that the training required to be a Staff Sergeant and Sergeant needs to be more extensive. Unfortunately with a high OPTEMPO the Army has relaxed schooling standards to allow promotions to those who haven't had the opportunity to attend.
When I earned my stripes I had to graduate PLDC (which is now called Warrior Leaders Course) before I could be promoted. Now there is no schooling required to be promoted to Sergeant and WLC is the only requirement for Staff Sergeant.
Imagine, a single one month school beyond Basic Training and AIT to lead a squad independently? In Vietnam promotions were very rapid, but the Army paid the price. After Vietnam NCO's who "grew up in the Jungle" were great at leading patrols, but couldn't train PVT Snuffy how to shoot or run a range or do any of the other non combat functions that NCOs are expected to do. It took some time to get the NCO corp back on track to being the Backbone of the Army. When the Officers took over training the "zero defect exercise" mentality took root and made life painful.
The real problem that I see with the separation of the Officer and Enlisted ranks is the firm separation. Instead of a natural progression from Staff Sergeant or Platoon Sergeant to Lieutenant there is only OCS or ROTC. When the Army is hurting for Officers OCS starts cranking out Lieutenants left and right (I know, I was there and got the commission). During peace time OCS cranks back to a trickle, a token few hundred each year spread across all branches, creating a difficult gap between E and O.
So talented Sergeants and Staff Sergeants get out, because while a Captain is two people up the Chain of Command from a Squad Leader, three promotions will take that Staff Sergeant to a Sergeant Major, which is a position that has very little to do with the work of leading men. The bulk of the "Senior NCO Corps" exists solely as a counterpart to a commissioned Officer. Yes we let Platoon Sergeants double hat as Platoon Leaders when there is a shortage of LT's, but we do NOT let 1SG's double hat as Company Commanders. The 1SG is one of the "Top Three" of the company along with the Commander and Executive Officer, but he has no command authority.
Still to this day the Officer Corps retains some of the trappings of the aristocratic background. However since WWII the Officer Corps has gotten a bit more "Blue Collar." A large amount of this is the massive amount of enlisted soldiers who take advantage of wartime OCS to turn their college education into a commission.
On the flip side, each year group of officers experiences the "Captain's Exodus" between years three and six as young Captains do the cost/benefit analysis and decide that civilian life allows you to see your family more often and gives you more freedom to control your own career. This is one of the reasons that some NCOs have to cover down on vacant officer staff positions.
Several other officers and I have discussed the creation of an Infantry Warrant Officer position to help ease the transition between E-6~E-8 and the O ranks and fill in some of the inevitable gaps in the O corps. It would also give SSG's more promotion opportunities to help retain talent.