It’s been a cliché since long before Caesar was in diapers because it’s true. Effective armies run on a foundation of the quiet, competent experience of senior NCO that have seen a lot, don’t get excited about much, and just get things done the right way.
They might not think too much of the higher command, or the general direction of things in the big picture, but they just focus on the day-to-day details of the smaller unit, training up the new guys, and generally beating a collection of individuals into an effective team. The best of them don’t take the individuality out of a soldier, they just channel it, make use of it, put it where it’ll to the most good. First Sergeant Harbin Reel is just such a guy. He’s known Lag for a long time, and he knows Lag is a first rate Big Picture guy, and an excellent fighter as well, so he is happy to let Lag track the universe, line up the jobs, and file the paperwork, while he gets to keep the unit, whatever size it is at the time, operational on the ground. He knows the big picture is insane, so he doesn’t worry about it. He just keeps trying to improve the mess he gets handed one at a time, turning undisciplined guys into men.
He loves a good challenge. He thrives not on words or rhetoric, but on action. Not the mindless action of a psychopath, but the purposeful action of a warrior trying to clear the bad guys out of the universe so the good folks can be left in peace. He sleeps well, because he knows there are a lot of people in the universe you just can’t reason with, and the best way to stay safe is quietly get rid of them when they come after you. He knows the willingness and ability to use force is the only thing that keeps sociopaths in check. He isn’t exactly happy when he has to kill someone, but he knows it a price that sometimes must be paid to keep others, innocent people, safe. Most of the violence he uses is defensive, not offensive, used to end fights rather than start them.
He’s a relatively taciturn man, given more to demonstration than talking, but he isn’t above giving a good brief lecture to introduce a hands-on event. He doesn’t brag, but he knows the effects a good story has on an audience, either as a recruiting tool, or a teaching aid. His quiet competence is the opposite of Helton’s casual, sarcastic flippancy. He likes and appreciates Helton because he see in him a fundamental competence, an honest commitment to hard work and getting things done, and while he’s not a brave hero full of bravado and daring do, Helton steps up and gets it done when the situation demands it.
The senior NCO is a standard character in military fiction, nothing new there. But I didn’t want him to be a cardboard cutout. He’s got a soft spot for kids, and has a family of his own. He likes Quinn, and I couldn’t think of a starker contrast than having someone as tough (mentally and physically) as him reduced to sobbing by the hell of combat. He puts on a brave face, but that final battle affected him deeply. He knew it had to be done, but he REALLY hated having to do it. Anyone that isn’t a psychopath would be seriously traumatized by such a battle, and even the most mentally unbalanced would be utterly drained, physically.