Tag Archives: ALC

Students at Fort Sill NCO Academy test their skills during live fire exercise

By MEGHAN PORTILLO
NCO Journal

Field artillery Soldiers attending the Advanced Leader Course at the NCO Academy at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, don’t just worry about tests at the end of the course. They feel the boom of a cannon and smell its smoke as they demonstrate their expertise and leadership skills during a live fire exercise.

Soldiers in all field artillery and air defense artillery career management fields come through the NCO Academy, but those with military occupational specialties directly involved in the operation of howitzers – including 13B cannon crewmembers, 13M multiple launch rocket system crewmembers, 13P MLRS operations/fire direction specialists and 13D field artillery automated tactical data system specialists – have the added advantage of hands-on training in that live fire environment.

A student in the Advanced Leader Course at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, holds up the three excess gunpowder bags that were not needed for the four-increment charge during live-fire training on an M119A2 howitzer. The action serves as a visual confirmation for the section chief that the crew loaded the correct charge. (Photo by Meghan Portillo / NCO Journal)
A student in the Advanced Leader Course at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, holds up the three excess gunpowder bags that were not needed for the four-increment charge during live-fire training on an M119A2 howitzer. The action serves as a visual confirmation for the section chief that the crew loaded the correct charge. (Photo by Meghan Portillo / NCO Journal)

“Throughout the course, we touch on all the things they will need to be howitzer section chiefs,” said Sgt. 1st Class Craig Dalen, senior small group leader, master gunner and NCO in charge of the ALC live fire exercise. “They learn the doctrine in their classes. Then the live fire is what we call the capstone or the culminating event of the class, where they put everything they have learned into firing the howitzers safely and accurately and are then able to go back to their unit and spread the knowledge to other NCOs in their battery.”

The live fire is a great opportunity for the students, Dalen said, especially for those who work outside of their MOS.

“We get such a diverse group of NCOs who come here, and they are not necessarily in a section chief position,” said 1st Sgt. Antonio Morris, ALC first sergeant. “Some of them are working in training rooms or administration jobs, some are recruiters, some are drill sergeants, NCOs with various duty assignments across the globe. One of the major benefits is that when they come here, they get that training they have been missing. This is their opportunity to get reacquainted with what they will be doing on the line. It is definitely a plus – they get up-to-date on their training, up-to-speed with their peers, then go back out to the force and are better able to groom their section or that lieutenant who is with them. They will be better at their jobs when they leave here.”

Throughout the five-week course, NCOs’ leadership skills are evaluated. Students take turns leading formations and physical training and acting as section chiefs, who are responsible for prepping the guns and ensuring the others know the crew drills. The section chief is the one to give the OK, saying, yes, they have the capability to fire.

“I want students to come out of this course knowing Army doctrine,” Dalen said. “Every unit has its own standard operating procedures, but here they learn the base and core elements of field artillery by the manual. They learn what right looks like, what a real crew drill is. Their unit will dictate how they do it, but there are certain things by manual that they are not supposed to change. And the students get a better grasp of what really is safe and unsafe, authorized and not authorized.”

The culminating event

Fort Sill’s is the only NCO academy in the Army that provides a live fire exercise. It is important, Morris said, because the skills required in field artillery are perishable. To solidify the lessons learned throughout the course and ensure NCOs are prepared for combat, the students need to get out there and actually do what will be required of them, he said.

“This is the culminating event,” Morris said. “Everything they learn over the first five weeks they take that out to a field environment and put into action. The dry fire missions, the rehearsals, the crew drills, they all lead up to the live fire. It’s like ending with an exclamation mark.”

A student in the Advanced Leader Course at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, looks through the sites of an M119A2 howitzer during a live fire exercise at the end of the course. (Photo by Meghan Portillo / NCO Journal)
A student in the Advanced Leader Course at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, looks through the sites of an M119A2 howitzer during a live fire exercise at the end of the course. (Photo by Meghan Portillo / NCO Journal)

During the live fire, students fire 155 mm rounds and 105 mm rounds and utilize all three artillery pieces used in Army units: the M777 howitzer, the M119 howitzer – both degraded and digital – and the M109 Paladin self-propelled howitzer. The instructors try to ensure each NCO works with the howitzer on which he or she is least familiar.

Every crew has a loader, or “No. 1 man,” a gunner and a section chief. Depending on the howitzer a crew is working on, there may also be an assistant gunner, an ammunition crew and a driver. After every two or three rounds, the students rotate through the positions so each has the opportunity to act in a leadership role.

“The live fire is very valuable to this course because as things upgrade and change, we have to adapt with them,” said Sgt. Benjamin Murray, a student in the course. “It’s better to do things hands-on rather than just out of a book, because there are things you won’t understand completely until you actually see it and see how it’s done.

“And, it will make it easy for us to PCS to another unit with a different piece because we will have a better understanding of what it is that they do and how their crew drills and everything are run. If I have only worked on one piece, I may go to a new place and their lowest-ranking Soldier knows more than I do about how to do the crew drills. That just doesn’t reflect well. So having this course, being able to jump on each piece, it helps us out and keeps us up-to-date.”

Sgt. Jose Medina, another student, agreed.

“If you don’t know the gun, how are you going to be in charge of that section and teach your Soldiers?”

NCOs in officer roles

In addition to the benefit of hands-on practice, the live fire gives instructors a way to gauge the effectiveness of the course, Morris explained. How do they know the training is working? Are the students learning all of the lessons they need to be prepared for combat? It is easy to sit in class and take tests, Morris said, but that is not what will be required of them in the field.

“We find out how effective our curriculum is by how well the NCOs do at the live fire,” Morris said. “The live fire is not a graduation requirement, but it is a test. It tells us what is working well. Based on their performance, we adjust the curriculum if needed.”

Morris said he is proud of his NCO instructors and how they have taken charge of the course and live fire. In a combat situation, as well as in any other live fire training scenario, officers would be present to verify calculations, ensure safety and give the OK to fire. At the ALC live fire, however, NCOs fill those roles.

“It is definitely an eye opener, because you never get to see this anywhere else where it is all NCOs fulfilling those roles,” Morris said. “It is a testament to the knowledge that these NCOs have. They are the trainer, the evaluator, the overseer. They are facilitating it.”

“The benefit of having all NCOs is that the Soldiers are getting it from guys who have been there, who have done what they are doing,” Dalen said. “And it also shows they are learning from true professionals. It shows the students and the Army as a whole that NCOs are more than capable of executing fire missions and anything else we would have to do if need be.”

Soldiers’ concerns addressed in changes to SSD, NCO PME

Complete #TRADOCtown hall coverage

By CLIFFORD KYLE JONES
NCO Journal

With Structured Self-Development and other Professional Military Education courses now a requirement for promotion, Soldiers expressed concerns about course capacity, opportunity for fast-trackers and consequences for failure to meet requirements during Training and Doctrine Command’s State of NCO Development Town Hall 2.

TRADOC Command Sgt. Maj. David Davenport and his fellow panelists had answers, suggestions and an open mind.

They also had some news about changes to the SSD program and updates on the state of common core instruction that will be rolled into the Advanced Leader Course and the Senior Leader Course.

Davenport made it clear that he heard Soldiers’ complaints about SSD — one of the messages aired during the town hall’s breaks even highlighted some — and that he and the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy are committed to improving PME.

Spc. Shaina Williams, a wheeled vehicle mechanic with H Company, 148th Brigade Support Battalion, Georgia Army National Guard, studies the Creed of the Noncommissioned Officer while she and her classmates stand in line for lunch during Basic Leadership Course at McCrady Training Center in Eastover, S.C. (Photo by Sgt. Brian Calhoun)
Spc. Shaina Williams, a wheeled vehicle mechanic with H Company, 148th Brigade Support Battalion, Georgia Army National Guard, studies the Creed of the Noncommissioned Officer while she and her classmates stand in line for lunch during Basic Leadership Course at McCrady Training Center in Eastover, S.C. (Photo by Sgt. Brian Calhoun)

“Let me just tell you the feedback I’ve received from the Soldiers: We have to make sure that the material in there makes sense, that it’s tied to something,” he said. “And I think that the work that USASMA’s done of making sure the SSDs prepare you for what you’re going to see in the brick-and-mortar, but more importantly now the way they’ve designed our Structured Self-Development is it’s tied back” to previous and future courses.

SSD “has to make sense,” Davenport continued.

“It can’t just be the spot where we put all mandatory training; it has to be built in to follow a progressive, sequential manner tied to our PME to be effective,” he said. “But we’re going to have to maintain SSDs. SSDs will be around in our Army. As a matter of fact, we’ll go to six. Every level of PME will have an SSD.”

The changes to SSD mirror the changes to NCOs’ required PME, such as ALC, SLC and the new Master Leader Course. Those courses will soon incorporate a common core of instruction.

“A lot of work has gone into the design of it,” Davenport said. “Not only the content of it, with the common core. Common core is six subjects that we’re going to start in the Basic Leader Course. It’s progressive and sequential; we’re going to build skills and knowledge all the way up to the Executive Leader Course. We kind of already mentioned how the SSDs are going to tie the brick-and-mortar to the distance learning. What I’m very excited about is the rigor that is going to be applied to our NCO PME — academic rigor.

“If you want to see a great example of it, I ran into a noncommissioned officer who just went through the Master Leader Course,” he said, mentioning a guest entry on his blog at tradocnews.org. “And truly the Master Leader Course is where all these ideas were exercised, to validate to see if we could spread it out in our PME.”

Command Sgt. Maj. Dennis Defreese, USASMA’s commandant, said the first blocks of SSD instruction will be foundational and the later blocks will lead directly into brick-and-mortar coursework.

“If they’re exposed to something in SSD1, they’ll talk about it in BLC,” he said. “It not only pulls from the one before, but it also leads into the next level of SSD.

“That’s the whole continuum, not just the SSDs. As we’re redoing the Basic Leader Course and we’re now doing the Advanced Leader Course and Senior Leader Course common core curriculum, it will be sequential and progressive across the entirety of the NCOPDS. … They will be linked for the first time in our history.”

Capacity

Among the first questions Davenport fielded pertained to capacity and requirement waivers for Army Reserve Soldiers.

“It doesn’t matter what component you belong to. The STEP policy of Select, Train, Educate and Promote applies to all three components,” he said. “You must go to PME prior to being promoted to that grade. I don’t know the particulars, but we have absolutely no issue with capacity. I hope the people in the back will make a hashtag that says #TRADOCHasCapacity to get Soldiers to school.

“What we are seeing is that we’re still having a deferment problem even with the deferment policy that we have in place,” Davenport continued. “We just need to make sure that Soldiers are ready to go to school, and if they can’t go to school, to let us know as soon as possible so that we can get other Soldiers to the school.”

Since the last town hall in March, Davenport said TRADOC has established both a deferment policy and a priority list for PME. Soldiers in danger of not being promoted and those backlogged in their PME have top priorities, but Soldiers who just want to get ahead on their schooling have opportunities, too.

In reply to a question about Advanced Leader Course opportunities for low-density MOSs, Jeff Wells, TRADOC chief of plans and Training Operations Management Activity plans officer, said TOMA was working with Human Resources Command to offer courses regularly for all three components and was looking at using mobile training teams to boost PME opportunities at sites other than the centers of excellence.

The commenter said ALC classes in his MOS were only offered three or four times a year and were often scheduled near the beginning of the year, creating a delay for Soldiers.

Another commenter wondered if TRADOC had plans to improve availability for the functional Battle Staff Noncommissioned Officer Course — which was surprise to the panelists, because the organizers of the course don’t perceive any problems with capacity.

Defreese and Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey Huggins, USASMA’s deputy commandant, suggested issues at specific installations might cause some backups in BSNCOC availability.

Defreese noted that with the course’s video teletraining, or VTT, model, availability at USASMA is rarely a problem. However, installation commanders are responsible for providing an on-site assistant instructor, so backlogs can occur at specific posts.

And Huggins noted that even with seats available overall, organizations preparing to deploy can cause surges in BSNCOC enrollment at particular installations.

Functional courses

In addition to BSNCOC, Davenport brought up another valuable functional course, the Senior Enlisted Joint Professional Military Education Course Levels 1 and 2. The town hall even featured a special message from Command Sgt. Maj. John W. Troxell, Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, about how important exposure to joint operations can be.

“The current operational environment points to all future conflicts being transregional, multidomain and multifunctional,” he said in a prerecorded message. “That means it’s a joint and multinational fight. Because of what this will require of our noncommissioned officers, we must expand their development to produce joint enlisted leaders with broader leadership capabilities.

“That’s where senior joint professional military education comes in,” he continued. “SEJPME 1 and 2 are designed to complement the current [NCO education] continuum by exposing enlisted leaders to joint education and giving them the tools to operate and supervise effectively as part of our future joint force. With enlisted leaders holistically developed to function confidently and competently in a joint environment, our military will continue to have the decisive advantage against any adversary in this increasingly complex world.”

Level 2 is necessary to be a student in the Sergeants Major Course.

Although Level 1 is not a requirement, Defreese said, “I think it’s probably important, because we have put a joint portion in the Master Leader Course and there will be some joint exposure in the Senior Leader Course, so it’s probably relevant to have the Phase 1 before you go to the Senior Leader Course.”

Huggins added, “We’re in a smaller military across the board, so we are going to work with all our brothers and sisters out there in the different services, and so being exposed to them earlier I think makes transitioning easier when you fall under a joint command. We have a lot of JTFs out there and there are plenty of Soldiers who don’t know what that means.”

Fast-trackers?

Because the STEP system requires a Soldier to complete each block of instruction before he or she can be promoted, one commenter wondered whether it was possible for high-speed Soldiers to get promoted quickly.

Davenport pointed out that the “S” in “STEP” stands for “Select.”

“STEP is not automatic promotions,” he said. “It’s about recognizing — the ‘S’ is ‘select’ — those Soldiers who have demonstrated potential and performance and character to be recommended for promotion. So there’s always an opportunity to move ahead. It still requires the SSDs to be completed and [you to] be fit, ready to go to school once you go on that standing promotion list.”

He did say the Army is considering moving pin-on dates to ensure Soldiers have time to get through their PME requirements in time to get branch-qualified and be competitive for the next level.

Priority 1 Soldiers

A commenter asked about Soldiers who are eligible for promotion except for the PME requirement. Aubrey Butts, director of the Institute for NCO Professional Development, said the Army is working to get those Soldiers into the required courses.

“They are Priority 1 people, and what we do is we offer them the chance to go to school up front,” Butts said. “And, probably, the next part of that question is what if they don’t go? When they arrive in the primary zone and they have not completed the necessary PME, they are probably boarded and eliminated from the Army.”

Davenport added, “This is always a tough question about who is responsible for making sure a sergeant gets to go to school. First and foremost, it’s the Soldier. The way that ATAARS is set up now, they get a notice and depending on the hierarchy that’s established within the ATAARS system, unit leadership gets notified that Davenport needs to go to school. …”

“They all have received their opportunity to attend PME, and they are on notice that this is their last shot to go or they will be non-PME compliant and subject to the various [Qualitative Service Program] programs that we have going in our Army.”

A commenter followed up with a question about deployed Soldiers and whether they would be allowed waivers. Davenport said the Army is trying to avoid the scenario by using mobile training teams or asking Soldiers to attend courses earlier.

The school systems of the active-duty Army, the National Guard and the Army Reserve are also being combined to allow Soldiers more opportunities to go to a course any time it’s offered, said Troy L. Nattress, plans officer for TOMA. For instance, if active Army and the National Guard each teach a course four times a year, now any Soldier has eight opportunities to attend.

Nattress said, “That can really help these Soldiers get to school, get promoted and then return to their units and support the Army’s readiness.”

Writing skills will be emphasized in new NCO Professional Military Education

Complete #TRADOCtown hall coverage

By CLIFFORD KYLE JONES
NCO Journal

The topic that prompted the most discussion — and the most anxiety — at last month’s State of NCO Development Town Hall 2 wasn’t even directly on the agenda. What had Soldiers most worried was the NCO Professional Military Education’s new emphasis on writing.

During the second segment of the town hall, representatives from the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy — Command Sgt. Maj. Dennis Defreese, commandant; Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey Huggins, deputy commandant; and Charles Guyette, director of the Directorate of Training — described the new Master Leader Course and its writing requirements. They also explained how communication skills, specifically written communication skills, would become integral to every level of PME.

In speaking about the need and structure of the MLC, Defreese said, “The other part of the Master Leader Course is that every student who got to the Sergeants Major Course would say the same thing in the initial critiques: ‘We’ve never been taught how to write, and now we get here and we have to write university-style papers.’

“So we’re backing that down to the Master Leader Course,” he said, “and over the next year, all the way down to the Basic Leader Course. We’ll have a writing assessment, and we’ll force them to improve their writing skills or communication skills, both [orally] and in writing.”

That set the chat board buzzing, with commenters concerned about implementation, assessment and instruction.

Huggins responded to some of those concerns during USASMA’s session.

Sgt. 1st Class Alan McCoy, staff administrative assistant with A Company, 94th Combat Support Hospital, and Staff Sgt. Tonya O'Connell, mental health tech with 176th Medical Brigade, practice public affairs skills in Seagoville, Texas. All NCOs will be required to improve their writing skills under TRADOC's education plans. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Kai L. Jensen)
Sgt. 1st Class Alan McCoy, staff administrative assistant with A Company, 94th Combat Support Hospital, and Staff Sgt. Tonya O’Connell, mental health tech with 176th Medical Brigade, practice public affairs skills in Seagoville, Texas. All NCOs will be required to improve their writing skills under TRADOC’s education plans. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Kai L. Jensen)

“There’s a level of angst, obviously, in the Army right now on the redesigns of the educational system,” he said. “We are not throwing you into the shark tank. We are putting a lot of energy into the instructors and the training of the instructors so that they can help. … This is not a, ‘Hey, you can’t write, we’re booting you out of the Army.’ This is, ‘The Army is becoming more educated, it has to be able to communicate better, and this is how we’re getting after it.’ ”

And he assured Soldiers that they would be given the tools to succeed.

“It’s not show up and be prepared,” Huggins said. “We’re going to help you get there.”

Many of the students who reached the Sergeants Major Course have been concerned about their writing ability, Defreese noted. But he also said that as the course has dropped multiple choice exams in favor of more thorough written exams and coursework, the failure rate has fallen because students learn and retain the information better.

Guyette said, “The rigor of the course really drives the students to force themselves to improve their skill in an area they have not had before. It’s something they’re not comfortable with, but we have to take them out of their comfort zones, give them these [tools]. And the outcome we’ve experienced with this course is that they’re improving their writing and briefing capabilities.”

Training and Doctrine Command’s command sergeant major, David Davenport, who led the town hall, spent the second half-hour of the session on the online chat board that accompanied the webcast. When he came back to the set, he said, “There are a lot of great questions coming in on the chat board, and I noticed a common theme about them: It’s really about the writing assessments and the writing courses that we’re putting into our Professional Military Education.”

To help answer some of those questions, Davenport brought Institute for NCO Professional Development Director Aubrey Butts back onto the set to further explain the Army’s plans to improve Soldiers’ communication skills.

Butts explained that a writing assessment had already begun in most iterations of the Basic Leader Course, using software, called Criterion, that evaluates writing. Soldiers are given immediate feedback on writing assignments, scored 1 to 6. Butts said the Army is looking for a minimum score of 3, but that score doesn’t affect graduation.

“We’re not only doing the assessment,” Butts said. “Score 3 and below and we’ll offer a self-improvement course, which should be improved in the next couple months.”

Further assessments will be extended into the Advanced Leader Course, the Senior Leader Course, the Master Leader Course and the Sergeant Major Course, and each Soldier’s assessment will be tracked over time. Butts said this will allow for a “longitudinal study” of NCOs’ writing ability.

“Right now, if you look at the Army, only about 21 percent of the people who go to school can write effectively,” Butts said. “And it’s a problem with the new NCOER. If you look at it — it’s short. It’s concise. You have to be to the point. And if we don’t teach our NCOs to write, No. 1, we’re going to select the wrong noncommissioned officers for promotion. Secondly, with all the new technology that comes out, you have to text messages and receive messages, and if you can’t put it in a concise format, you aren’t going to be able to get all the support that you need on the modern-day battlefield.”

During the chat, INCOPD and USASMA representatives indicated that TRADOC was working with the Army Intelligence Center of Excellence in Fort Huachuca, Arizona, to develop a complete writing program and curriculum that could be rolled out to all the Army’s centers of excellence.

Davenport noted that writing ability, as assessed during each level of PME, will be annotated on the new Department of the Army form 1059. That form should be out later this year, Davenport said on the chat, and TRADOC is working on writing assessment guidelines and standards.

Several commenters asked how instructors would be trained to improve Soldiers’ writing skills.

“The faculty development program gives instructors more exposure to English, grammar and comprehension and [will] norm the grading standards against a rubric,” Guyette said of the MLC instructors. “Internally, USASMA will have to monitor to make sure that they’re executing that.”

Defreese added, “It’s not just the Master Leader Course. We’re going to send instructors to help teach ALC and SLC instructors how to do that grading and norming of written tests as we put written requirements into ALC and SLC.”

A representative from INCOPD said on the chat that Army University and the Combined Arms Center are “reviewing how cohorts address writing skills in PME.”

“In addition, USASMA will look at ways to incorporate instructional techniques to foster writing skills as a part of the NCO PME continuum, …” the INCOPD representative continued. “We intend to ensure that facilitators of learning have the training and tools required to provide meaningful feedback on writing standards as a part of NCO PME. This issue is being looked at by the Army University and USASMA.”

In closing out the writing discussion, Master Sgt. Michael Lavigne, who moderated the town hall, said, “I can see that that’s going to cause some angst in the next couple years as this is introduced because there are a lot of people who are great doers but not very strong writers. But if it’s progressive and sequential, they can start out young and develop as they go.”

Davenport concurred.

“And that’s the vision,” he said. “Understand that it’s a gap that we have right now, and it’s a way to close that gap over time.”