The U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy, Fort Bliss, Texas, handed out certificates of graduation October 23, to the 13 students who made up the final pilot class of the Commandants Pre-Command Course.
Before handing out the certificates to the seven commandants, three deputy commandants and one incoming Sergeants Major Course director, Command Sgt. Maj. Dennis Defreese, USASMA’s 21st commandant, made a few remarks about the course and its ultimate goal.
“Hopefully you got something out of this. Our goal for this (course) is for it to be a dynamic, and by dynamic I mean we will change it based on input and the needs of our commandants and deputy commandants out in the force. We also want it to be relevant to the position that you are in,” Defreese said. “We don’t train to do this kind of a job so my hope is that we have given you some tools and if not you need to tell us.”
Defreese urged the graduates to inclusive in their role as commandant.
“Never forget to input compassion and understanding when you are dealing with your students. By the time it gets to you for a drop (or other administrative issue), that you are looking at both sides,” Defreese said. “You are not just the staff and faculty commandant; you are the commandant for the students and the staff and faculty. (Remember) the reason you are the commandant is because you are looking at both sides and you are the person who says, ‘I believe this is the right way to go.’”
On the job for only 60 days as the commandant of the NCO Academy at Fort Shafter, Hawaii, Command Sgt. Maj. John McDwyer said attending the course was very beneficial.
“When I first got (to Fort Shafter) I was inundated with a lot of stuff and not really understanding anything. Coming here to this course with everything they have provided has given me a basis for really what my job is and what I should be looking for,” he said. “More importantly than the things they taught in the course was the ability to talk to the other commandants who have been in position for a while. They give context to everything and allow me to balance a little bit more on what should be done and methods to do it.”
Command Sgt. Maj. Alma Zeladaparedes, who will soon take over as commandant of the NCO Academy at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, said she came to the course with no knowledge of what a commandant is.
“I came here empty. You know you have your rucksack and it is empty. Here from day one I collected so many things that I can say that now I am in full battle rattle, fully equipped, with what I need to do to be successful,” Zeladaparedes said. “Being around this network of sergeants major and mentors who have been successful, to know that network is amazing; to know that I can come here empty handed and leave with this amount of knowledge because what they know, I know because all I have to do is reach out to them. That’s amazing.”
While the course was developed to better prepare command sergeants major to take on the role of commandant, seats were also made available to deputy commandants to help them understand the complexities of commanding an academy. Attending the course was humbling for Sgt. Maj. Robyn Collier, deputy commandant of the NCO Academy at Fort Huachuca, Arizona and who has been in the position for about a year.
“I was honored to be invited to this class and see what other commandants and other deputies are doing,” she said. “I would have liked to attend something like this prior to taking on my duty as deputy. I fell that this is definitely beneficial in preparing you and giving you some insight on what goes on. What the mission command is all about. It is a really good course. They thought of a lot of things that are very important to being a commandant.”
Sgt. Maj. Jude Landry, course manager for USASMA, said he believed the course was on track to be very valuable and does not believe there will be many changes going into the future.
“Most of the changes I see that will take place are just continuing to keep up with Army transformation. Regulations are constantly changing, so we need to stay on top of that,” he said. “There were couple of instances where things changed in October, regulatory guidance change, and we didn’t have time to get it into the current course, the mentors and the (subject matter experts) were able to articulate those changes in the classroom. So we were able to put out the most up-to-date information we could possibly do.”
Sgt. Maj. Gerardo Dominguez, course facilitator for the final pilot class called the class “phenomenal.”
“I think it is a phenomenal course, something that we cannot let die out,” he said. “We need to continue to push it because as a command sergeant major at a brigade level your roles and responsibilities are different than a commandant in a command position. This course gave the students the tools they need to know as a commandant.”
The biggest takeaway for most of the students, besides learning what their right and left limits are as an enlisted commander/commandant, was the importance of networking.
“How big relationships are with your installation, between all of the commandants where you have can help each other out so that you are not reinventing the wheel and there is somebody out there if you have a question,” said McDwyer. “You are not alone. Sometimes as a commandant you feel like you are alone because of all of your responsibilities, but there is a support network there to get you the right answers to make sure you are not messing up.”
The Commandants Pre-command Course is a challenging week-long 50-hour course of instruction designed to prepare commandants and deputy commandants assigned in positions throughout the Army’s noncommissioned officer educational institution. It is designed to bring command sergeants major into those unique positions where they are actually executing command-type leadership – a relationship that is not traditionally associated with being an NCO. It consists of instruction in 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. The initial proof of principle was conducted in September of 2013.