The U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy – the proponent for all NCOES common core courses, the Battle Staff NCO Course and Structured Self Development (SSD) – recently scored an “A+” on its evaluation from the American Council on Education or ACE.
“This is a good news story,” Command Sgt. Maj. Dennis Defreese, commandant of USASMA said. “We went through the ACE evaluation and got the most credits that we have ever received for SSD I and Warrior Leader Course, all the way up through the Sergeants Major Course and SSD V. It is pretty significant for all of the credit they gave us.
Sgt. Maj. Robert Hixson, deputy director for the Department of Training, explained the process ACE used to evaluate USASMA’s courses.
“ACE evaluation looks at our teaching method, the level of rigor we put into the course, the examinations and the rigor put in them as well,” he said. “They look at what we teach and they compare that to college curriculum to ensure it matches the level of credit awarded. A lower division credit equates to an associate degree; upper division credit would be for a bachelor degree; and graduate division, which we didn’t get any credit, would be for masters.”
The evaluation of each course takes time with USASMA supplying all products to be evaluated in advance.
“Over a six month period we had to give ACE a period of instruction which is basically every class; everything the instructor has; and everything the student sees for evaluation to include every examination,” he said. “We had to provide them all of that and then we had several conference calls with them where we talked about the curriculum.”
Hixson said the dialogue between USASMA and ACE went back and forth for some time with ACE asking questions like, ‘Which program of instruction, or POI, is the valid one for the Warrior Leader Course – the 15-day POI, the 17-day or the 22-day?’ Once all of the questions were answered, ACE proceeded with their evaluation of the courses.
“What they do is they take three professors from various academic institutions and each one independently will review a POI and determine what credit they think should be awarded for that POI based on the level of work and level of education in the lesson,” Hixson said. “Then they bring the recommendations together and there is a month grace period where they come in and visit for two days, and go through the entire curriculum block while they are here. Then they went back for a month and reviewed what they got from the professors and made their credit recommendation.”
Then end result of the evaluation – an additional 23 college credits for the various courses. (See the chart)
With most colleges requiring 60-80 credit hours, depending on your major to obtain an associate degree and 120 hours to obtain a bachelor degree, Structured Self Development and NCOES will get you the needed credits to obtaining your degree that much easier.
“Most colleges require you to get four classes for residency, so what you get in NCOES and four basic classes you could have an associate’s degree potentially,” he said. “That is what I did, a long time ago at Fort Riley, I went to the community college and I had to take a math course, an English course, a science course, and a fine arts course. And with those four classes I was awarded an associate’s degree.”
Some colleges may require you to take up to eight classes in residency depending on your major for a bachelor degree,’ said Roxanna Taylor, USASMA’s education program advisor.
Hixson cautioned that not all colleges accept what ACE recommends, but regardless the education you receive through the Army does go towards your degree aspirations. He added that even though ALC-Common Core is no longer being taught, the recommended credit it received will sit in place for those who completed the course to allow them that college credit.
ACE is the nation’s most visible and influential higher education association and represents the presidents of U.S. accredited, degree-granting institutions, which include two- and four-year colleges, private and public universities, and nonprofit and for-profit entities. ACE’s strength lies in their loyal and diverse base of more than 1,700 member institutions, 75 percent of which have been with ACE for more than 10 years. ACE convenes representatives from all sectors to collectively tackle higher education challenges, with a focus on improving access and preparing every student to succeed.
With in-processing complete, the 466 students of Sergeants Major Course Class 65 received their final briefings Aug. 11 before starting the 10-month long program of instruction.
Sitting in the East auditorium of the Cooper Lecture Center, better known by the students as the master bedroom, the students were greeted by Command Sgt. Maj. Dennis Defreese, commandant of the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy.
“This won’t take very long and I will take whatever questions you want to ask, but really it’s about welcoming you and giving you a little bit of course expectations from my foxhole,” Defreese said. “I know you have already heard this, but this course is more challenging than (what) your battalion or brigade CSMs (told) you before you came here. That being said, it is not that hard that you shouldn’t be taking college courses (while you are here).”
He encourage all of the students that if they didn’t have a degree, or where close to completing one, to do it while they were at the academy, but balance that with taking time for the family and exploring El Paso and the surrounding area. He also cautioned the class to maintain the profession.
“The three key parts of the profession, our profession, are character, commitment and competence. You cannot mask character flaws with competence. I don’t care how good of a student you are if you have a character issue while you are here it is going to be a problem,” he said. “Look out for each other. … (Keep) each other out of trouble. … My goal here is to graduate 466 students from this academy.”
Defreese also touched on the height and weight, and Army Physical Fitness standards, stressing that as per Army directive it is a graduation requirement to meet those standards. He also talked briefly about current issues facing the force like sequestrations, force reductions and the Command Select List before turning his attention to the many guest speakers the students will hear from.
“There is no other venue in the world where you will get the level of speakers that comes in here to this course,” he said. “You are going to be hearing from some of the senior leaders in the Army. Pay attention to them, they are going to tell you what the latest is in the Army. They know what is going on.”
With his comments complete, Defreese took time to answer some questions from the students.
Later in the day the students received their in-brief from the Sergeants Major Course director, Command Sgt. Maj. Gary Coleman who introduced himself as a Class 56 graduate.
“Why do I say that? Because it is important that when you graduate from here that you are proud of this alumni,” he said. “Once you get out of here, the one thing you will do is when you see other sergeants major, what is common amongst you, is you come from here (and what class you are). So be proud of this.”
Coleman gave the students a complete overview of the mission of the Sergeants Major Course as well as introduced all of the cadre from the different departments – Force Management; Command Leadership; Army Operations; Joint Intergovernmental, Interagency and Multinational; and Training and Doctrine. Each department introduced their staff and gave an overview of the curriculum of that department.
Coleman also made note of the level of experience and education of the instructors, many with advanced degrees or higher as well as command sergeant major, combat and joint experience.
“We have a lot of experience here,” Coleman said. “So when we talk to you about being selected as being the best of the best to come here, you are going to have the best of the best teach you on all of these different aspects of the different roles of the sergeant major.”
Coleman and his staff also briefed the students on every aspect of the course concerning assessments, standards and expectations. He too cautioned the students about maintaining the standards, watching each other’s back and maintaining the profession with character, competence and commitment. He also dispelled a misconception of what the Sergeants Major Course was not.
“One of the perceptions about the Sergeants Major Course is that we are going to teach you how to be that sergeant major out there chewing butt, and all of those other things. That is not what this course is designed to do,” he said. “This course is designed to make you an adaptive and agile senior leader. To be able to go out there and be effective, be efficient, be part of the team, understand the same language that your officers are talking, and it brings credibility (to the rank).”
He said the goal was to have 466 students graduate from the course and told the students that the staff and cadre where there to help them in any way they can to make that happen.
The Army’s culminating enlisted Professional Military Education (PME) institution is the Sergeants Major Course. This course provides tools to develop critical reasoning, creative thinking and decision-making skills. Soldiers are provided an education that teaches them to enhance their character, self-expression, and strengthen teamwork abilities. The course assists in the development of logical, practical and original reasoning abilities necessary for problem solving. Students analyze problems based on available information, arrive at logical solutions and decisions with reasonable speed, communicate reasoning and decisions orally and in writing, and supervise to ensure proper execution. Intellectual honesty, integrity, and professional values and standards are highly stressed. The SMC contains a total of 1,484.7 instructional hours, and is also offered as a nonresident course which culminates with two weeks of resident instruction at the academy.
Soldiers being selected to take the Sergeants Major Course in a nonresident status should prepare themselves to be introduced to a whole new course, one that will challenge them and is as close to the resident course as it can be in a distance learning environment, said Command Sgt. Maj. William Tilley, deputy director Sergeants Major Course and leader of the Nonresident Sergeants Major Course for the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy at Fort Bliss, Texas.
“We have added a lot of rigor into the course, just like the resident course,” he said. “The next two years is not going to be a cakewalk like it used to be. The education you will receive is up-to-date and relevant and mirrors what is being taught in the resident course. So you are getting all five departments, Military History, Resource Management, Army Operations, Joint Operations, and Force Management.“This course is going to take time, a lot of commitment and dedication to complete the distance learning portion of the course, but you can do it. It is not that difficult and what you are going to learn out of the course is going to make you a better sergeant major and get you rolling on to someday being a command sergeant major.”
Making the course relevant is something that has been a topic of past graduates for years and is not a new issue for the Academy.
Since the very beginning of the Sergeants Major Course in 1973, the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy has been grappling with the challenge of providing a nonresident version in order to meet the needs of the Army each year. In 1974 USASMA kicked off its inaugural Corresponding Studies Course (later to be known as the Nonresident Sergeants Major Course) with the typical mail correspondence course. That was followed by computer discs with all of the course curricula. With the advent of the Internet in the mid-1980s the idea of online instruction came into play, but at the time it too had its limitations. As technology continued to advance and new software were developed the Academy found the challenge of distance learning getting a little easier. Still the course had issues – high attrition rates, course length, technology issues and relevance.
Upon his arrival to the Academy in 2011, Command Sgt. Maj. Rory Malloy, the commandant of USASMA, made it one of his priorities to fix the problems in the course and bring it to a point where it mirrored the resident course. For that mission he turned to the Academy staff to come up with the fix.
“We did an in-depth study on why those attrition rates were so high and a lot of it was that it took too long to get through the course,” said Malloy. “There weren’t any good control measures, or gates, in place to ensure a sergeant major was progressing on course, and by the time they were checked they were so far behind we were losing a lot of them for lack of progress. The other challenge was under the old course they had three years to complete it and they would get promoted to sergeant major, serve their two years and then retire and not complete the course. So it was taking too long.”
Tilley said that making changes to the course wasn’t hard “when you have got the 10-pound brains, the guys that can actually put what is being taught by an instructor face-to-face into a distance learning product that is relevant to the end user.”
Those 10-pound brains he referred to where his senior instructor Juan Ortiz, the staff of the Sergeants Major Course, course developers and the Interactive Multimedia Instruction office staff.
“Juan Ortiz is my go-to guy for the course. He pretty much builds the lessons,” Tilley said. “He gets with all of the other senior instructors of the resident course; gets feedback from those guys and pulls all of their information in so he can put together the right product that is delivering the right learning outcome and once he says it is good to go, the chief instructor looks it over and if everything is good we send it off to the IMI guys so they can put that product into a dl platform.”
The dL Conversion Process
Ortiz has had experience in all aspects of the Sergeants Major Course – he graduated from Class 52, he taught the resident course on the platform and currently he is the senior instructor for the nonresident course. He had the arduous task of converting the resident course into a relevant distance learning experience.
“First I take all of the lessons and go over them and filter out what can be done individually in distance learning and what has a group process or has to be done in a group,” he said. “Then once I identify those I go over to the developers and they look at every lesson and we adjust those group lessons into individual projects. It goes through a process we call storyboarding. They go through the whole process of looking at the lesson plan and putting into a storyboard format where the IMI folks can translate it into an actual multimedia product.”
Once the product has been designed it is transferred into a graphic user interface where group discussions are substituted with threaded discussions, similar to a blog; checks on learning are added along with videos and narration. Once the product has been completed, Ortiz explained, it goes through an initial validation.
“When we get the product the first time, which is called an Alpha, we have people go through the whole product and indentify anything wrong with it,” Ortiz said. “It then goes back to IMI or the contractors who fix it and then goes into a BETA. When it goes into a BETA final we do it again, look at it, ensure everything is working, content is correct, and if so we sign off on it that it is okay to post.”
Ortiz said the validation is done by what he refers to as performers, those who are familiar with the material such as instructors and course developers; and the nonperformers those who are not familiar with the material but are there to push all the buttons, navigate all of the links and ensure the functionality of the online product.
“So we go through this validation to ensure everything is working within Blackboard (an online education software platform) and we identify any shortcomings and go back and make fixes,” he said. “Once we fix them we don’t do a second validation, we just test that particular item they identified to be fixed.”
The hardest part of converting the resident course, Ortiz said, was trying to maintain the same learning outcomes.
“It is a very difficult process because you have to look at a lesson plan which is designed for a resident course and interaction with people, and then figure out, ‘How can we get the same affect online?’ So we came up with the checks on learning,” he said. “As we go through the process we stop and we ask the student a series of questions. If they fail the checks on learning the course will send them back to that particular module and they will go over it again. That was a difficult part coming up with the checks on learning.”
Another area that needed attention was student briefings. Students are required to research, develop and give briefings on various subjects, but how do you do that in a distance learning environment?
“One of the most challenging things to do is the briefings. How do we do briefings? In the past we used to send that particular student to their sergeant major to have them give their brief and we would get confirmation they did it,” Ortiz said. “We wanted to get it better. So what we have done this year is what we call PowerPoint narratives. Now the student has to develop the briefing; they have to do a narration on the briefing; and then they upload it to Blackboard. That way the instructor can grade their briefing because [the students] are actually narrating the briefing in their own words.”
In the not too distant future, Ortiz said, they plan on developing a way to video record briefings.
The IMI Process
While determining how to break down a particular lesson into its learning outcomes is a difficult process, portraying that in the actual online version is a process in and of itself. That part is left up to the staff of the Interactive Multimedia Instruction office and contractors.
Working within the confines of Blackboard and the Army Learning Management System, the IMI folks have been creating the distance learning modules using HTML, or HyperText Markup Language. This allowed the course to be delivered anywhere in the world, but it was cumbersome, slow and students often found themselves getting timed out or having the module crash and then they would have to start over from the very beginning. That is until recently.
“The way we developed lessons previously was through HTML pages so when the person clicked the next page a new HTML page would open up. That kind of slowed down the system,” said Geraldo Hernandez an Interactive Multimedia Instructor. “So our challenge was how to make a faster experience when opening up a page. We did some research and we developed something that we called a virtual database array. Basically what that is, instead if developing 40 HTML pages we developed one java script and in short term code put everything into one java script page.”
The new process allows students the ability to access information much faster without having to open numerous HTML pages and reduces issues with getting timed out or system crashes. The folks at IMI also made numerous improvements to the overall product – automatic bookmarking every five seconds so you never lose your place, if the lesson mentions a reference the Soldier can click on that reference and the lesson will take the student to the exact page the reference relates to, you can listen to the narration or mute it and just read the narration and much more.
Hernandez said creating the new Nonresident Course was not hard thanks to all of the folks at the Academy.
“Making the course exactly like the resident course was not difficult thanks to the great help from the training developers and the facilitators of the resident course,” he said. “They know what the training support package looks like, they know what the material is so with their help giving us the information and giving us a layout and a story board it was easy for us to use this template we created. They would also recommend what images to use, so we would go image mining and look for something similar to what they are looking for. All that made it a lot easier.”
Final certification of the new course took place earlier this year and all modules are ready for delivery. The biggest problem so far, Soldier’s web browsers aren’t set up properly to access Blackboard or the new course.
“One of the problems we have been encountering is that the student’s or Soldier’s computer is not set up to accept Blackboard or to view a Blackboard web page. Blackboard has created a training site to ensure they have the latest java script, web browser, everything updated to allow Blackboard to be read easily, and then they will step into the lessons,” Hernandez said. “Blackboard technicians get hundreds of calls because the Soldier’s web browser has not been updated. Some people out there still use IE6. As far as the course itself, we haven’t gotten any real complaints.”
Tilley said so far Class 40, the first to use the new course, has had nothing but positive comments about the changes.
“We are getting a lot of positive feedback from Class 40 which is the new one we just launched that has the five departments in it like the resident course,” Tilley said. “There were a couple of hiccups in the beginning but I don’t think it was the IMI guys fault, I think it was kind of the validation process where some of the buttons weren’t working. So we went back to the IMI guys, pulled the product offline, made sure it was good and upload it back. The turnaround was good.”
Tilley added that because the has been updated to match the resident course, students graduating from it will receive more college credits from the American Council on Education.
“Because of the rigor we have put into it and because of it almost mirroring the resident course, they are getting 12 ACE credit hours for completing the course,” he said. “It is a good incentive. Prior to the update it was 9 credit hours.”
To ensure students stay on track and to keep the class on schedule, the Academy has instituted gates or time hacks for when modules are to be completed and when new modules are released. As each class is constituted, the students are given access to only those modules on Blackboard and won’t be allowed to fast track the course.
“The modules, classes 38-39 were gated every 6 months, the legacy courses, classes 37 and before, they could actually fast track it and get done earlier. But we don’t want the students to fast track,” he said. “So now they have module suspenses. So say they complete the module early, they could in essence be waiting for two or three weeks before the next module is released.”
The reason behind it is due to limited seats in the two week resident phase.
“We can only hold upwards of about 80 students per two week resident phase and we run 10 per year. So if you have a whole bunch of fast trackers that would go through the course, we would have an influx of too many students trying to get into the resident phase,” Tilley said. “We would have to ask for overages and we only have five instructors so we would be creating a large backlog. This makes it so we always have 50 to 70 students per resident phase.”
Ortiz explained the other reason they instituted gates, was because they want to keep the course relevant. If changes are instituted in the resident course, they will be able to incorporate those changes in the nonresident course and everyone will remain on par.
“The reason it has been changed is because we can’t do that anymore in order to stay current and relevant and parallel to the face-to-face (resident) course,” he said. “The changes to Class 65 are minimal so that is going to allow us to stay parallel to them. But in order to do that we can’t load everything up. If we can do something on a module that is not due to be released for 6 months, why would I want to put it up there and pull it back down to make changes. This way we can make the changes before the module is released.”
The Resident Phase
Tilley said students coming to the two-week resident phase should prepare themselves for a rigorous challenge as well.
“First they need to be in shape and they need to be prepared to share their experience with everyone in the classroom,” he said. “They have to do briefings while they are here, there is some CPOF training and a lot of case studies to be involved in. You have to come here and be committed to the course and are able to share your experience with everyone and you will learn from everyone as well.”
Upon arrival to the Academy, students are in processed. On Day Two, the students are weighed in and if they are deemed overweight, they are taped. If they fail they are given one week to come into compliance with the standard. On Day Three they are given the standard Army Physical Fitness Test. If they fail that they are given one week and are retested. Failure to meet standards is an automatic dismissal from the course.
“It takes a whole lot of commitment to get through this course. It is not a cake walk; rigor has been built into it,” Tilley said. “If you are one of those Soldiers that wants to continue to be a member of this great Army and be a sergeant major it takes a little bit of dedication and time. It is a course that is not difficult if they stay focused and progress through the course.”
The international students of Sergeants Major Course Class 64 got a first-hand accounting of the happenings in the U.S. Congress April 17, when Congressman Beto O’Rourke, 16th District, came to meet with them in the west auditorium of the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy, Fort Bliss, Texas.
Michael Huffman, director of the International Military Student Office for the Academy introduced the congressman to the students.
“Usually every year on our field studies program we get the unique opportunity to speak with our congressional representative from El Paso while visiting Washington, D.C. Since congress is not in session during our trip this year, Congressman Beto O’Rourke has come to the Academy to brief you on his duties and responsibilities,” Huffman said. “You have already visited the city government; you visited the state government in Austin; so this is your last opportunity [to get an understanding of our form of government].”
With introductions over O’Rourke gave the students a brief overview of his duties as a first-term congressman, how he managed his campaign to win the congressional seat, his priorities in serving the constituents of the 16th District, and some of the things he has learned since becoming a congressman.
“When people ask me what has been surprising or interesting, something you didn’t know before you got here, that has been the real eye opener, the real shocking thing about our system of government in the U.S. and specifically the Congress, is how dominated it is by the desire to get re-elected and how critical money is in being able to be re-elected,” O’Rourke said. He added that he is for term limits and transparency in campaign finance and that his office has sponsored a bill that would bring transparency to campaign fundraising and would tie donor to candidates who make donations of $1,000 or more to any campaign.
O’Rourke said his two most important issues he focuses on are the dynamics of the U.S./Mexico border and his work on the Veterans Affairs Committee and on veterans’ issues in El Paso.
“We spend a significant amount of our time on improving the prospects and perspective on the U.S./Mexico border in Congress. You all have the great fortune of spending a year here and you realize how wonderful El Paso is, the great weather, the wonderful people, the excellent Mexican food, and what you also realize is that we are the safest city in America today,” he said. “I like to tell people that we are the safest city because we have Fort Bliss, excellent law enforcement, wonderful people working the border patrol, but perhaps more importantly than all those other things is that we are the safest city in America not in spite of, but because of a wonderful and proud tradition of immigration into this community.”
O’Rourke noted however that many in Congress look at the border as a threat for illegal drug importation, human trafficking, weapons and terrorists, everything he said only goes to fuel the insecurities if the uninformed. In contrast, he pointed to the fact that about $90 billion in US/Mexico trade crosses through the ports of entry between El Paso and Mexico; 22 million legitimate legal crossing every year, those crossers spend about $1.5 billion in the local economy.
“So we have far more to gain by broadening and deepening our relationship with Mexico, focusing on positive, capitalizing on the opportunities, then we do to shut down the border,” he said. “So a lot of our efforts in congress [is] educating my colleagues about the positive dynamics of the border and introducing legislation to improve how we treat the border and maybe shift away from a law enforcement dominated perspective.”
Turning to veterans issues, O’Rourke said El Paso and the surrounding area is home to about 100,000 veterans who are served out of the Veterans Affairs Clinic located on the grounds of the William Beaumont Army Medical.
“It is a system that in many cases unfortunately has failed our veterans – very hard to get a medical appointment, very hard to see a mental health specialist and those who were injured in service to their country, sometimes, far too often; it is very hard to get an answer back when they file a service-connected disability claim,” he said.
O’Rourke ended his comments thanking the students for allow him to address them and opened the floor up to questions which ranged from how does getting re-elected fit into the daily business of being a congressman to party discipline in voting on issues .
“Their questions were great and they were very basic questions that I would be asked by a constituent in El Paso – ‘What are you doing for your district, what are your goals, what have you attempted that you have been unable to accomplish.’ It really shows you that representation and the political process transcends countries,” O’Rourke said. “People are interested in the same things no matter where they are from. I was grateful that I was not asked any difficult geopolitical questions and could focus on those things that we really know best, the border.”
The Field Studies Program objective is to ensure that the students return to their homeland with an understanding of the responsibilities of governments, militaries, and citizens to protect, preserve, and respect the rights of every individual. Areas of focus are human rights, diversity and American life, U.S. government institutions , political processes, the judicial system, the free market system, education health and human services, media, international peace and security and the law of war.
The international students will visit Washington, D.C., next week to learn more about our federal government, our history and nation.
The El Paso Community College Administrative Services Center took on the identity of a mini United Nations March 1, as the college’s Diversity Program put on its inaugural International Festival and Cultural Bowl thanks to the help of five local cultural groups and several international students from the International Military Student program at the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy, Fort Bliss, Texas.
The first-ever event, hosted by the EPCC, combined a two hour academic challenge event with an international fair in hopes of promoting a broader cultural awareness among El Pasoans and the surrounding area.
“We are here celebrating diversity,” said Olga Chavez, director of Diversity Programs for EPCC. “We have two tremendous events going on – One we have the academic side with the culture bowl in which high school students come together in teams and answer questions on different cultures, and we are doing our international festival in which the Sergeants Major Academy and five other organizations from other cultures have come together to show off their country. We hope to let people know what different cultures are, because many of us in El Paso never get out of the district or out of our own cultures. So we want them to explore and learn more about each other [through this event].”
Chavez said the Academy’s involvement in the event was important for many reasons, but mainly because of the fact that there are so many different countries represented through the Sergeants Major Course.
Doropeo Franco, assistant director of Diversity Programs for EPCC, lauded the Academy for being able to provide representatives for 28 of the 33 counties that participated in the inaugural event.
“This festival would not be possible without the support of the Sergeants Major Academy,” he said. “They have been so good to bring the students and the families and their flags. It is just a tremendous thing that they are doing for us. “
Joyce Stophel, the Field Studies Program Manager for the International Military Student Office at the Academy, said the students volunteered to take part in the event and were happy to help EPCC kick off their inaugural event.
“[EPCC] knew about the Sergeants Major Academy having the international program and asked if we would join in with them to expose the high school students to more of the different cultures in El Paso. They wanted to give them the experience to meet each of the countries and their representatives, a sergeant major, and to learn a little bit about their countries [face-to-face] rather than sitting in a classroom textbook-wise,” she said. “This also falls under the field studies program by helping us to get our students out and meet with the local schools. We also get to promote our host family sponsorship program as a way of meeting people throughout the community that might be interested in sponsoring some of our internationals for the next class.”
With table arrangements and audio/visual equipment provided by EPCC, the Sergeants Major Course Class 64 international students brought in their laptops, brochures, artifacts and country flags prepared to talk about their country to any and all who would listen.
“The first thing I try to explain about is which place is best to visit in my country,” said Sgt. Maj. Amran Mohammed of Malaysia. “Then I try to explain to them about my flag, my language, my customs, traditions, everything. So far I really, really enjoy it.”
Master Sgt. Kippei Shiba of Japan had a similar experience.
“Today I talk about my culture and give demonstration of our traditions to everyone,” he said. “They are very interested about the Samurai Sword and Japanese calligraphy, and my son; he is wearing his karate suit so we are talking about that also. This is very awesome, I really enjoy this.”
To encourage visits to all of the international displays and participants, USASMA made up a passport book which students and visitors could take
to each station to have it stamped and to meet with the different cultures. As attendees made their way through the numerous information booths to get their passport stamped they were entertained by various dance and musical groups who performed on the main stage and further cemented the theme of the Spirit of Diversity.The event expected to attract more than 400 people throughout the day.
Attendees at this year’s U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy African-American Black History Month celebration and observance were taken on a journey into history Feb. 13 as members of Class 64 put on a play that not only traced history, but urged the audience to make a difference for the future.
“We welcome you to our play, a voice from the past for the future. During this play you will hear the words of famous civil rights leaders who impacted not only our generation, their generation, but hundreds of generations yet to come,” said Master Sgt. Trinnette Robinson a Class 64 student. “Although all of these leaders are no longer here with us, yet their words will still ring true in our souls and can inspire us to move forward in our destiny for greatness. Sit back, relax and take a journey to the past as we show you how to face each day with courage, hope and determination.”
The first to tell her story was Isabella Baumfree, better known as Sojourner Truth. Truth talked about being born a slave and how she later became an abolitionist and women’s rights activist in the mid 1800s. She was followed by Frederick Douglas, an African-American social reformer, orator, writer and statesman, who became a leader of the abolitionist movement, gaining note for his dazzling oratory and incisive antislavery writing.
Harriet Tubman, who was also born a slave, told her story of escaping from slavery and making 19 missions to rescue slaves using the “Underground Railroad.” She also informed the attendees of her service during the Civil War working for the Union Army as a cook and a nurse, then later as an armed scout and spy. Tubman also noted that she was the first woman to lead an armed expedition in the war.
“Freedom is worth fighting for. You can’t achieve nothing if you don’t reach for it,” Tubman said. “Freedom was my dream. What is your dream? ”
Tubman was followed by Ida B. Wells-Barnett who’s story began with her being removed from a Chesapeake, Ohio and Southwestern Railroad train for refusing to give up her seat and move to a smoking car. She later sued the railroad and won her lawsuit.
“Injustice performed by any man to another man is wrong,” she said. “What injustice are you accepting? I believe that today that the greatest injustice is performed to us by us ourselves. We don’t seize opportunities that are made available to us. Instead we simply sit around complaining. That my friend; is injustice. Maximize what is available to you and change what you can.”
Wells was followed by George Washington Carver, a scientist, botanist, educator, and inventor who told the crowd, “A man who fails is a man who never tries.”
Carver was followed by the stories of Mary McLeod-Bethune, an American educator and civil rights leader best known for starting a school for African-American students in Daytona Beach, Florida, that eventually became Bethune-Cookman University; and Rosa Parks with a re-enactment of her refusal to give up her seat on the bus in Montgomery, Ala.
They were followed by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who told the crowd, “When you know your purpose in life you are willing to weather the storms no matter what comes.”
“Don’t let their sacrifices be in vain, don’t let their struggles be in vain,” Robinson said. “Stop accepting mediocrity, start the way for a better tomorrow, start your way for a better attitude. Start your way for a better education stop saying what you can’t do, and start doing what you can do.”
Class 64 ended their play asking everyone to stand up and join them in the signing of “Lift Every Voice.”
Upon completion of the play, attendees were treated to another history lesson, this time from Command Sgt. Maj. retired, Charles “Chuck” Taylor, who, dressed in a Buffalo Soldier uniform, took the crowd on a journey of civil rights from as early as the 1600s. He outlined the history of African American Soldiers through the civil war, World Wars I and II and beyond, noting the efforts of the Tuskegee Airman, the Red Ball Express and the 719th Tank Battalion under Gen. George Patton.
He ended his presentation imploring those present to keep up the fight for civil rights.
“Soldiers, all of us, we are not there yet. The documents written in the 1700s have given us the avenue to take advantage of the steps that need to be taken to get those civil rights,” he said. “We need to demand our civil rights.”
Command Sgt. Maj. Gary Coleman, director of the Sergeants Major Course, thanked all for attending and participating and ended the celebration with a quote from famed actor Morgan Freeman who said, “Black history is American history.”
“I am proud to be an American and I am proud to be a part of this presentation today,” he said.
Noted American novelist Richard Bach said, “The mark of your ignorance is the depth of your belief in injustice and tragedy. What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the Master calls the butterfly.” In other words, there is good and bad in every situation or event, it just depends upon your point of view.
Understanding those differing points of view and how individuals face and cope with “adversity, adapt to change, recover, and learn to grow from setbacks” has been an Army focus since the establishment of the Ready and Resilient Campaign and the Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness program in 2008. Through CSF2 the Army seeks to “increase the resilience and enhance the performance of Soldiers, their families and Army civilians.” Included in CSF2 is Master Resilience Training where individuals are trained to teach proven resilience skills to Soldiers in order to enhance their performance and increase resiliency, both individually and collectively – “being Army Strong is about much more than being physically fit; it is about mental and emotional strength, as well.”
At the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy, resiliency training began about three years ago when one of the cadre attended the MRT Course taught at the University of Pennsylvania and came back to USASMA and developed a program of instruction for students attending the Sergeants Major Course.
“Ramzy Noel (one of the senior instructors of the Sergeants Major Course) had heard of this and got involved in and he piloted a program here to teach [MRT] at the academy,” said Mike Hayes, senior instructor in the Department of Command Leadership. “He got it blessed off on by [the] director of the Sergeants Major Course, and he taught an abbreviated version of the class in the auditorium to the [sergeants major course students].
Hayes soon followed Noel’s footsteps and attended the University of Pennsylvania training and joined Noel in teaching the class. Last year the Sergeants Major Course reorganized into new departments and the responsibility for the course fell strictly on Hayes to manage. That is about the time, Hayes explained, when the leadership of the Army’s CFS2 program came to USASMA and gave a brief to sergeants major course students about the program. From there, an agreement was reached where individuals from the Fort Bliss Comprehensive Soldiers and Family Fitness Training Center would take on the duties of teaching the course and the students would graduate from it with the additional skill qualifier of 8R – they could now teach the course themselves instead of just knowing about the course.
“It enhanced the quality of training and all the sergeants major will be level ones (Level I) upon graduation, Hayes said. “The intent behind it was to get a lot more senior level, senior NCO, involvement in the program. Some units had programs in place but they weren’t really going after things. So leadership felt that if they had more believers at the senior level, more would get involved and then the programs would get better.”
With the agreement in place between USASMA and CSF2, instructors from the Fort Bliss center began teaching the 10-day course to the students of Sergeants Major Course Class 64. As the SMC is broken down into five departments and five semesters, the MRT course is taught at the beginning of each semester as each group rotates into the Command Leadership phase of the course. The course itself consists of lectures in the auditorium and small group instruction and interaction in the classroom.
“The overall mechanics of the program is typically they get information in the large group setting where they learn a skill or a component of a skill, a theory behind something that works, and then the real work is when they go to the small group room with an assistant primary instructor and some facilitators and we ask them to actually use the skill or theory they just learned,” said Dr. Erin Towner, Psy D, Master Resilience Trainer/Performance Expert and primary instructor for the course. “Here is this skill, now walk through it; this is how your MRT is trained to do it; try it for yourself. After they get their feet wet with the skill, all the skills are worked through with a partner, and then we work in the small group rooms debriefing the skill, talking about what we learned in doing the exercise and a lot about application – how do you use this or see this being used.”
Sgt. 1st Class David Parish, a Level IV MRT instructor and assistant primary instructor with the 5th Armored Brigade, 1st Armored Division, said the intent is to educate senior leaders as to what it is an MRT does so it can be better utilized in the field.
“The overarching goal of teaching sergeants major students the program and actually walking them through the entire program is designed to give them a deeper understanding of what an MRT is,” he said. “[It’s] also to show them how they can use their MRT as a force multiplier; how they can use their MRT more effectively in their units; and what their MRT’s left and right limits actually are.”
Parish said the latter part is significant because MRTs in the field have been asked to do things that actually aren’t in an MRT’s realm or scope. He added leadership has heard reports back from Soldiers who have been asked to be like a triage for their unit – to decide whether or not somebody needs to go to mental health.
“We are not training in a two-week period to be clinical psychologists. We are not giving anyone a PhD in clinical psychology,” he said. “So leaders need to understand things like you still have those outside resources that you need to reach for [that are outside an MRT’s scope].”
Parish said that MRT is based on science and is intended to give Soldiers skills to cope with things before they happen as well as give them life skills for everyday living.
“Resilience is a skill. Resilience skills are really designed for before an event occurs in your life. So before a traumatic event happens, before life just slaps you in the face,” Parish said. “These are the skills we want you to know beforehand.”
He added, MRT is not trying to teach anybody a set of skills for after an event has already occurred.
“Say you are suffering from a disorder like PTSD,” he said. “We are not teaching you these skills to treat your PTSD, we are teaching you these skills to treat your life and how you would use these skills for long term and hopefully reduce or eliminate the PTSD before it happens.”
MRT training is broken down into four modules of instruction, Dr. Towner said.
“The first module is foundations. It contains foundational components about resilience, performance enhancement and the six competencies that build resilience and performance,” she said. “We also teach them the skills of energy management and goal setting”
Module two she said is the longest module and is focused on building mental toughness.
“That is a lot of cognitive behavioral skills, the basic skills like the Army saying, ‘Suck it up and drive on,’” she said. “Knowing these skills; this is how you do that; telling somebody to get over something, or how do they get over something? This is the way, and there are very specific set of skills to use in certain types of situations to develop those competencies we talk about.”
In Module three the students learn about strength of character.
“The students take an assessment and they get a rank order of their strengths,” Dr. Towner said. “Then we have a lot of conversations about how have you used these strengths, where has this gotten you, how do you find this in your Soldiers, and how are you going to leverage this in your Soldiers? That module is an entire day.”
Module four is all about communication, she said. From there they move on to looking at scenarios.
“They have learned all these skills and then we give them a scenario and then ask them what skills make sense to work this scenario,” she said. “We ask them how should they be working with this Soldier and the scenario gets progressively more complicated and [it forces them] to see what other assets and resources you can use on post to help this Soldier – what other assets are available.”
Towner said it is all aimed at setting them up for success before the “stuff” happens.
The students of Class 64 who took the course in the first semester agree.
“Up until I came here and I took the MRT course, I knew very little of it,” said Master Sgt. Juan Pena who was a brigade operations sergeant major with the 2nd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, N.Y. before attending the Sergeants Major Course. “When you are talking resiliency it’s about people’s feelings and emotions and how they are able to handle and cope with different situations. It has just been through my experience that I have been able to help soldiers out with their situations, shortcomings and shortfalls. However, the MRT course gave me a whole different insight on how to problem solve, look at better ways of doing things and also how to be more positive each and every day. This is probably one of the most beneficial training exercises or training event that I have ever been involved in.”
Master Sgt. Clay Usie who was a senior military instructor at Louisiana State University and a 1st Sgt. with the 75th Ranger Regiment, before coming to USASMA, said that he had used and taught resiliency as soon as the Army stood up the CSF2 program on Fort Benning, Ga.
“My battalion commander became a big fan of it and we started sending all of our senior instructors for the ranger assessment and selection program and we started teaching resiliency training within the program,” he said. “I think it complemented what we were doing. I don’t have the statistics right off hand but we have shown an increased accession rate since we implemented MRT.”
Throughout the course students are taught about MRT competencies of self awareness, self regulation, optimism, mental agility, strengths of character and connection. They learn about thinking traps, activating events, icebergs (personal beliefs and values), problem solving, and putting things in perspective, mental games, real time resilience, communication tools, and how to hunt for the good stuff. The course also shows the students how to conduct pre-deployment training, post-deployment training, teach energy management and goal setting.
The expectation from the Sergeants Major Course students going forward, Hayes explained, is not to go out and teach the course, but to use the knowledge they have gained to ensure the program is working out in the field.
“Now you know what right looks like, you know what the program consists of. You know what the skills are and you know what the requirements are. So when you get to your unit as an S3 sergeant major and your commander says ‘what is the status of my MRT program?’ You can go down and see how they are doing it [with the knowledge of how it is supposed to be done],” Hayes said. “We tell the students to make sure that it is alive and vibrant in your organizations, that you are meeting Army requirements for pre-deployment and post-deployment and that the quarterly training requirements are being met. The second thing is make sure it is good quality. Make sure your programs are teaching quality. If you have good quality and you get involved in the training it is going to stick more.”
Although the Academy is the only place where students are taught the entire Level I course and receive certification, Parish said that parts of MRT is taught at all levels of Army training from basic training to the Advanced Leaders Course.
Earlier this year the Army made it mandatory for Soldiers to complete their respective Structured Self Development Courses before attending their corresponding level of Noncommissioned Officer Education System courses – SSD I before attending the Warrior Leader Course, SSD III before attending the Senior Leader Course, and SSD IV before attending the Sergeants Major Course.
Because of this mandate leaders across the Army are becoming more involved in the supervision of their Soldiers’ progress, or lack thereof, in SSD course completion. Many still are asking the question, “How do I track a Soldier’s progress within SSD?”
The answer is the Army Career Tracker – a web-based leadership tool developed by U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command’s Institute for Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development, or INCOPD.
“The capabilities of the Army Career Tracker allow both first line supervisors and the command the ability to track SSD,” said Jeffery Colimon, chief of the Learning Integration Division, INCOPD at Fort Eustis, Va., and a retired sergeant major. “In more than one way the first line supervisor can track the progress of the individual Soldiers who are enrolled in SSD and the command, using the staff function, can aggregate the data and find out exactly how many people are enrolled in SSD and how many have graduated –all the way down to the individual Soldier level.”
While not mandatory for enrollment as of yet, the Army Career Tracker has more than 650,000 users, about 50 percent of the target population, which includes Army civilians, officers, enlisted and Reserve Component Soldiers. Colimon said that with the revision of Army Regulation 350-1, Army Training and Leader Development, due out early next year, all personnel will be required to have an Army Career Tracker account in order to access their individual development plan.
“One of the most dynamic things about the Army Career Tracker is that we have the capability to allow the proponent to place the career map in a section on the ACT called My Planner. In that section users are able to see the career maps of their current MOS (military occupational specialty) and grade, and also look across the [entire] career field to see what the recommendations are for key areas such as SSD, assignments, training, civilian education, and credentialing,” said Khadijah Sellers, a senior operations analyst with Enspyr, a contractor working with INCOPD to develop and maintain ACT. “All that can be selected by the users and can be added to the individual development plan within the ACT and is the only place where the IDP is contained. It also has been mandated to be used and will in an upcoming revision to AR 350-1 as a requirement.”
That requirement, Sellers said, mandates that within 30 days of an individual going to their first duty station and with the assistance of their leader they will start their IDP and it will be reviewed annually for the duration of their service.
“That is one of the forcing functions that we have,” Colimon said. “In addition to that, there are emerging regulations on sponsorship which also has some mandatory functions that are inside the Army Career Tracker for Soldiers, the sponsors and the key stakeholders. They will be required to go into ACT in support of the sponsorship of an individual.”
Cognos reporting system
While the ACT is a single point of entry for career and leadership development, it is also a powerful management tool which allows leaders at all levels to see what their Soldiers are doing as it relates to education and training and career management.
“One of the great things about Cognos and the staff role function is the command can [see] all the way down to the lowest UIC, company, detachment level and also is able to provide a by-name list out of that showing where the individual’s status is,” said Brian Lijana a training analyst with TMG Government a contractor supporting ACT. “We have a few different reports that track SSD. There’s an SSD report that gives straight forward facts of who is enrolled and who’s completed in each level regardless of rank, regardless of what schooling or NCOES courses they have taken. Then we also have our PME report. This report has been built in with logic to take into account the MEL/MES codes (the military education level and status codes) and match that with their SSD to show exactly what that Soldier needs – if they are required to enroll or complete WLC, or they need to complete SSD I, and that is based on their rank and their MLS code and SSD completion.”
Lijana added that with the Cognos reporting system, supervisors or first line leaders can look at a Soldier’s record and instantly see what that Soldier has done.
“When a supervisor, first line leader, looks at a Soldier’s record they see a thermometer. This thermometer is listed with the same PME structure SSD I, WLC, ALC, SSD III and so on all the way up to SSD V, and it can show what a Soldier has completed, if they are enrolled in a level and what their next level would be,” he said.
That kind of reporting ability allows for ACT to be a great tool for career counseling, Colimon added.
“This thing about tracking SSD and the first line supervisor to see this and that are collateral benefits that we have built into the system. None of them will be successful if in fact the individual doesn’t go in there, with the assistance of the first line supervisor, and manage their career,” Colimon said. “[Through ACT] the first line supervisor can actually coach, mentor and counsel an individual with a specific framework. They have a [map] to do that right in front of them. [The supervisor] can make recommendations on training and education opportunities as well as assignment opportunities, and the individual can see what is required of them to reach the next level.”
ACT levels the playing field
The ACT can manage a Soldier’s entire career, however short or long that may be, by allowing them to see what training, education, assignments, or certifications they might need in order to meet their goals. Because this is available to everyone, it establishes a level playing field, something that was not the case in the past when it came to career management.
“In the past, we had a lot of Soldiers that were equipped with good information from their leaders, their first line supervisor, and then we had Soldiers that were not equipped with that information,” said Master Sgt. Chadwick W. Wormer, ACT senior military analyst at INCOPD. “The ACT is leveling the playing field by giving every Soldier the same information and the same opportunities at their fingertips so they don’t have to base their career on good, or not so good, leadership.”
ACT has the ability to pull information from multiple systems in order to alleviate the need for an individual to go to different websites and portals to see their information, Colimon said.
“One of the things that is unique about the ACT is that all data is personalized within this cradle to grave, hire to retire, system,” he said. “What can I do within the current window of opportunity within my career to enhance my military education, civilian education, credentialing, and certifications, and also to become a better professional Soldier?”
Because of limited user licenses available for the Cognos reporting system, Wormer said that they are limiting the Staff Function report to the G3s at each post.
“We try to ensure access is given to the highest level G3 on the installation,” Wormer said. Once the access is given, it is asked that the user share with everyone on the installation. The report is in Excel, so it is easily sorted, filtered and further broken down by UIC.”
Installation G3s needing access to the Staff Function reporting must fill out INCOPD Form 1-R-E. To request a form email ACT.email@example.com.
The U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy announced recently that the entire suite of Structured Self-Development levels, or SSD, is going through a maintenance phase in order to bring a better NCO professional development product to the field.
“We never stop when it comes to ensuring we provide the force with the best possible NCOES experience and that includes all of our distance learning courses as well,” Command Sgt. Maj. Rory Malloy, USASMA commandant said. “Earlier this year we improved the user experience of those enrolled in the Advanced Leaders Course-Common Core, and now we have set our focus on doing the same for structured self-development.”
Currently the entire SSD suite is going through an update.
“All SSD I and SSD V lessons are in a maintenance phase in order to update course materials with current references and a new user-friendly graphics user interface,” Sgt. Maj. Andy Tafua, director of Structured Self-Development said. “It will have a new look and feel, something we believe those enrolled will appreciate.”
Tafua said that SSD III and SSD IV have already incorporated the new GUI and will be introduced to the force after the first of the year.
“SSD III will have seven new lessons added to the course and SSD IV will have 25 new lessons,” he said adding that SSD V went through a limited user test in September and that they are currently addressing all identified deficiencies and hope to have the course ready for release by the end of 2014.
The new GUI updates replaces the older Flash-based interface which was slow and buggy, said Jason Henderson of the Academy’s Interactive Multimedia Instruction section which developed the new interface.
“The new interface is fast, stable and only uses Flash when absolutely required,” he said. “New navigation reduces mouse travel and allows for a more user-friendly experience.”
Some of the improvements with the new interface include: Student progress is displayed using a progress bar and page numbers; references are linked and take Soldiers to the exact page where content is located; and lessons now have a full-featured audio control which allows Soldiers to pause, play, or scrub to the exact point in the audio clip they desire.
“The new GUI has been tested on Mac OS 10.7, and Windows 8, 7, Vista, and XP; Internet Explorer 11, 10, 9, 8; Firefox 25-17; Safari 6, 5; Chrome 29-23; Opera 12,” Henderson said noting that the Army Learning Management System may limit the browsers and operating systems accessing their system. “There are many other new features that enhance the learning experience and Soldiers will reap the benefits by having a much better learning experience.”
Note: MILPER MESSAGE 13-343, STRUCTURED SELF DEVELOPMENT (SSD) SEMI-CENTRALIZED PROMOTIONS, ISSUED: [25 NOV 13]. This message applies to Active Army and the USAR and AGR. Effective 1 Jan 14 completion of SSD-1 is a promotion eligibility requirement for consideration to the rank of SGT. On or about 2 Dec 13, SSD-1 will no longer qualify Soldiers for earning 16 promotion points for course completion and will be removed from the eMILPO correspondence course table. Commanders must ensure SPCs and CPLs complete SSD-1 before recommending them for promotion board appearance or command list integration (CLI) to SGT effective with the promotion board cycle for 1 Jan 14. On or about 1 Jan 14, all promotable SPC and CPL who have not completed SSD-1 will be automatically removed from the SGT recommended list (as ineligible). https://www.milsuite.mil/book/docs/DOC-125732 The number to the SSD Help Desk is 1-800-275-2872 opt. 5
As NCOs make their way through the ranks, taking on increased duties and responsibilities, they are provided with the fundamental tools they need through the Army’s Noncommissioned Officer Education System. Beginning with the Warrior Leaders Course and ending with the Sergeants Major Course, those duties and responsibilities, as well as the authorities, of the NCO are brought to light and imparted on those who are placed in charge of leading, training, counseling and mentoring Soldiers placed under their care. While their responsibilities are many, one thing is for certain, they have no real command authority.
The same cannot be said though for those who are placed into the position of being the commandant of an NCO Academy. These individuals not only have all of the responsibilities of being an NCO, they also carry the implied authorities of a commander, something they were not schooled in—that is until now.
On September 16 the USASMA kicked off a proof of principle Pre-Command Commandants Course designed to test the skills and knowledge of eight command sergeants major who currently hold the position of commandant in one of the Army’s 33 noncommissioned officer academies.
“As NCOs grow up in the Army they are given a lot of leadership opportunities and the opportunity to serve in a lot of different capacities – first sergeant, platoon sergeant, drill sergeant, and so on. But in every one of those roles with the exception of the squad leader, they are really not in the chain of command where they are the ones making all of the command-level decisions,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Rory Malloy, USASMA commandant. “However, as a commandant it is the first position, and probably the only duty position, in the Army where we ask a command sergeant major that has not been developed to do that kind of job to exercise their duties much like a commander. They have to manage a budget, they have to look at infractions of misconduct and what action they’re going to take with their recommendations; it carries a lot more power. So what we are trying to do is equip them with the tools and help them understand a lot of the limitations and expectations the position has.”
The course came about from issues that were happening within the Army in respects to NCO Academies, Malloy said. There had been some instances of misconduct that many believed were due to a lack of knowledge as to the duties, responsibilities and command authority of a commandant. Malloy himself noted his own lack of knowledge in assuming the duties as commandant of the Sergeants Major Academy and the issues he faced.
“I realized how tough the job was and there was really nothing out there that prepares us to take this job. We used to do commandants conferences where I would bring all the commandants in, but at the end of the day those were okay but we really didn’t get a lot out of them,” he said. “So last year we made the decision that commandants were not properly prepared to go into that leadership role and we needed to fix that.”
USASMA did an analysis of the training needs for commandants and realized there was a large gap in what command sergeants major were being taught at the pre-command course and what their duties and responsibilities would entail as a commandant, Malloy said. From there the staff in the Directorate of Training began the process of filling in that gap with a new course that would augment the pre-command course and give new commandants the tools they need to make sound command decisions.
“One of our main objectives here is to arm the [command sergeants major] with the tools that are necessary to be a successful enlisted commandant,” said Sgt. Maj. Jerry Bailey, USASMA’s Training, Development and Education sergeant major. “We took a list of tasks based on information provided by three mentors (sergeants major currently in commandant positions) we brought in and Command Sgt. Maj. Malloy. We took those tasks and we built lessons to get after what things an enlisted commandant can and cannot do. We want to educate them on their duties, responsibilities and command authority so as they go back out and do their commandant duties they have the tools that are necessary to be successful.”
Bailey said the course is designed on a learner-centric model using practical exercises that require group work and research to obtain the answers they need. Each group also shares their findings with the entire class in order to facilitate discussion.
The 40-hour, 5-day course covers 15 different topic areas: The Authorities of an Enlisted Commandant, Joint Ethics, Lines of Command/Support, Training Management, Inventory Management/Property Accountability, Budget Management, Academy Manning, Course Administrative Requirements, Instructor Development program, Civilian Personnel Management System, Student records, Learning Theories and Styles, Law for Leaders, Registrar, and Accreditation.
“It would normally take us about a year to get this course going,” Bailey said. “We did this in about two months with a lot of folks who spent a lot of dedicated time to actually get it done. We stayed in contact with the three mentors throughout the two-month process talking to them once a week and we provided them with what we thought the product should look like, and they provided us the feedback. So the mentors played a big part in making sure this was ready to go.”
To further enhance the course curricula, USASMA enlisted the help of its legal assistant, Sgt. 1st Class Jason Burke, who helped to mold and shape the instruction on the authorities of an enlisted commandant and joint ethics.
“One of the big things that the commandant touched on in his introduction to the class is the authorities of a commandant. After a year and a half here Command Sgt. Maj. Malloy and I have come through a lot of instances where regulations don’t clearly define and don’t mention a commandant. It only defines a commander or nothing,” Burke said. “So we introduce them to what delegations of authority, what memorandums of agreement, those types of things are going to be required of a commandant to be able to function at their installation. So we want the students to have a take away of this is what I am going to need to get established so that when these things come up they are not behind the curve.”
In the joint ethics piece, Burke was able to bring realism to the course through the assistance of Fort Bliss military lawyers who were on standby to answer any questions the students might have when working through various scenarios.
“Joint ethics violations are the primary cause for release of command and release of commandants. So during the course we conduct about an hour overview of joint ethics and then each day [the students] have an ethics-based, real-world scenario that is based off of actual cases which they will decipher what is the problem, how can they fix it, and how can they prevent it in the future,” Burke said. “We also have a paralegal in each working group to work them through that discussion and they also have an attorney available to them by phone to get actual advice. So this mirrors as close as possible a real-world situation of how they should go through those ethical issues.”
Taking part in the proof of principle, Command Sgt. Maj. Cornelius Mack, commandant of the Alaska NCO Academy who has only been on the job for nine months, said the course was far more than he expected and wished he could have taken it prior to being selected to serve as a commandant.
“Understanding the authorities is the biggest thing that I am taking away from here. What the authority of a commandant really is. Understanding how to establish [memorandums of agreement and understanding] to ensure that you are covered,” he said. “You have a commander’s role in an O-6 (Colonel’s) billet, but you don’t have command authority. So understanding what that authority is and how to establish memorandums of agreement and understanding to give you the authority you need to function, not for power sake, but just for the natural ability to run the academy is huge.”
Mack also noted the joint ethics portion of the course as extremely valuable.
“Sharing the knowledge with commandants so they can understand what it is they can and cannot do, and things that can and cannot get them in trouble. As sergeants major we have experienced some of these things over the years but once you are put in this position of commandant or commander, it is your FRG, it’s your fundraiser, it’s your this team or that team. Having that understanding and privy to that knowledge is the second thing that was overwhelming,” Mack said. “This course is more than beneficial. If a new commandant only got the book they put together for pre-reading it would have been so much better, it would have put me so much farther ahead of the game. So yes, this course is extremely beneficial to a new commandant.”
Command Sgt. Maj. Mark Porrett, commandant of the NCO Academy in Hawaii and an 18-month veteran of the position, had similar sentiments about the new course.
“This is definitely a shared experience between new and some seasoned commandants looking at some of the trip wires and pitfalls out there that nothing has really prepared us for. We may have been in the Army 25 plus years, but this is the first time that we are the sole person responsible for an organization. So the shared experience within the room is important, something that you cannot get online through video tele-conferencing,” Porrett said. “We have got to have the shared experience and within this group we have commandants with less than a month’s experience to some of us with 18 months and even though I have been in the seat for a while, there are still things that I am taking back to better my academy.”
Porrett was particularly thankful for the opportunity to hear from Gen. Robert Cone, commanding general of Training and Doctrine Command and who addressed the class via VTC on Day 3 of the course.
“The thing that we got was a one-on-one with a senior leader who understands our position, understands what our pitfalls are, and he was able to relay his expectations and the down to earth of this is what you need to be doing,” Porrett said. “He talked about things we should not be doing and rarely does that ever happen. It was good for us [to have the opportunity].”
With the proof or principle complete, Malloy and his staff will now go back to the table and look at the course surveys, conduct an after action review and make needed adjustments to ensure the course is ready for launch.
“We gained a lot from this. The proof of principle and proof of concept, it proved we are definitely in the right ballpark and it will work. We are just missing a few subjects and some of the scenarios and exercises they did were a little too challenging, so we are going to add a little more education before they do the scenario and the final exam proved to be very challenging, so we are taking a look at whether or not we met all the objectives,” Malloy said. “With a little more refinement and a little more time we will be ready to execute the course probably in February. We are also going to bring in all the advance leader course and senior leader course new commandants as well. “
Malloy said that USASMA hopes to be able to conduct three to four iterations of the course per year, depending on demand and class load and estimates the class size will be between 20-30 students. Some of the course can be given in a large group seminar setting while exercises and scenarios need to be done more in a small group setting.
“The course met my expectations and in some ways it exceeded it for what we are trying to achieve with the commandants. It really challenged them and caused them to have to think critically and then we really got after some of the intellectual-level of thinking and discussion on a lot of critical topics that they are going to be challenged with as a commandant as they take over these new duties,” Malloy said. “The course itself by design, we knew it would be challenging and the feedback we received it was a great deal more challenging then we had anticipated. Not only the examination, the scenarios that we gave proved to be very challenging as well. I think the course definitely better prepares them. Most of these commandants have been in position between a year and two months and every one of them said that if they would have had this course prior to the first day they had to sit in the seat as commandant, they would have been far better prepared to execute their duties.”