Tag Archives: U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy

Program teaches future sergeants major to boost Soldiers’ wellness

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By CLIFFORD KYLE JONES
NCO Journal

The new year will bring a crop of sergeants major with a new outlook on wellness.

Class 67 at the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy is taking part in the Executive Wellness Program, which is intended to merge information on the Performance Triad with resilience training to help new sergeants major become better Soldiers and leaders.

“We’re trying to bring those two together to help mitigate health issues and optimize readiness,” said Sgt. 1st Class Darin E. Elkins, noncommissioned officer in charge of the Executive Wellness Center at USASMA. “With the Performance Triad — sleep, activity, nutrition — we’re doing a baseline assessment.”

Students were screened about their personal habits, including questions about whether they got enough sleep, how many fruits and vegetables they ate, how much activity they engaged in, and whether they had any pain.

The baseline assessment took place in the fall, near the beginning of Class 67’s instruction. In addition to questions, each of the more than 600 students were run through physical drills such as short sprints, one-footed hops, and holding yoga positions to assess their speed, dexterity and flexibility — as well as identify any lingering pain. The students also underwent vital signs tests and used a machine to check their body fat composition, a more precise measurement than the commonly checked body mass index.

A student in the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy's Class 67 does a one-legged hop during an assessment for the Executive Wellness Program. (Photo by Clifford Kyle Jones / NCO Journal)
A student in the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy’s Class 67 does a one-legged hop during an assessment for the Executive Wellness Program. (Photo by Clifford Kyle Jones / NCO Journal)

As part of the assessments on each area of the triad, the students were coded as green, amber or red — green meaning doing well, amber indicating borderline performance in an area and red suggesting the Soldiers need to improve their sleep, activity or nutrition habits.

Immediately after the assessment, Soldiers met with a dietitian, a physical therapist and a clinical social worker to discuss their results.

At the final station of the assessment, Elkins said, wellness program representatives made sure all the students were signed up for RelayHealth, a Web portal that provides access and appointments to doctors and other health professionals, and knew how to use it and what resources the site provides.

The baseline assessment was just the start of the program, Elkins said. Throughout their time at USASMA at Fort Bliss, Texas, the students of Class 67 will be given further assessments and access to information and resources to help them improve their health and resilience and to teach their Soldiers to do the same when they return to their units as sergeants major.

“They all get a baseline, to know where they are,” Elkins said. “The idea is to have them identify those mitigating issues and then at the end of the school year or the class year, do another baseline to see if there are any changes: Did they learn anything? How can they use that information to take out to the operational Army when they leave here? How can they best optimize readiness for their Soldiers?”

“You build on (the baseline assessment) to change habits or to incorporate better habits,” he continued. “I’ve dropped modules in strategically throughout the school year.”

Elkins said 24 modules, each focusing on different aspects of the Performance Triad or resilience, are available electronically for discussion as part of Class 67’s coursework. The Executive Wellness Program also provides information guides, challenge guides and other technological resources to better teach the future sergeants major how to set wellness goals, eat for performance, enhance Physical Readiness Training and deal with sleep deprivation.

A student in the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy's Class 67 stretches in a yoga pose during an assessment for the Executive Wellness Program. (Photo by Clifford Kyle Jones / NCO Journal)
A student in the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy’s Class 67 stretches in a yoga pose during an assessment for the Executive Wellness Program. (Photo by Clifford Kyle Jones / NCO Journal)

Representatives from the Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness office at USASMA also took part in the Executive Wellness Program assessments. CSF2 will teach Class 67 the Master Resilience Training course, and Elkins said including the office in Performance Triad training will help teachers “bring it all together” when it comes to the effects of sleep, nutrition and activity on mental resilience.

Elkins said, “There are a lot of things Soldiers don’t know, especially when they’re 19, 20, 21,” about treating pain, behavioral health, using dietitians or receiving physical therapy.

“Some of the ownership needs to be on the individual,” Elkins said, “but they can’t own it if they don’t know what the resources are. So we try to help them identify some of the ailments, some of the things they’re not doing well. Now they can address that on their own.”

Master Sgt. Decarlo Johnson, a student in Class 67, said he was all green after the assessment. He said he arrived at USASMA fairly familiar with the Performance Triad and tried to implement optimizing techniques already.

He was, however, new to the body fat composition testing machines.

“I was interested to see what my body fat composition was, and I think they should do that more for Soldiers with the machine,” Johnson said. “That’s a great machine to have. If you had that in the unit, Soldiers would be more aware of their body fat and what they need to do to maintain” their weight.

Even though the concepts of the Performance Triad and resilience were familiar to him, he was excited to see the Executive Wellness Program for new sergeants major.

A student in the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy's Class 67 does a standing a jump during an assessment for the Executive Wellness Program. (Photo by Clifford Kyle Jones / NCO Journal)
A student in the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy’s Class 67 does a standing a jump during an assessment for the Executive Wellness Program. (Photo by Clifford Kyle Jones / NCO Journal)

“It’ll definitely help,” he said of the wellness program. “We have Soldiers who are overweight who can benefit from the nutrition and sleep (information) if they have problems with sleeping. If you get your sleep right, nutrition might be better, so I think it’ll benefit a lot in the unit.”

Lt. Col. Cyndi McLean, a physical therapist from the Executive Wellness Office at USASMA, said Johnson’s realization that each aspect of the Performance Triad affects the others is exactly what the program is trying to teach.

“If you consider one aspect of that triangle, if you’re doing really well, you’re probably going to have some benefits carry over to the other aspects of that triangle,” she said. “If you’re not doing so well in one of those corners of the triangle, you might be having some negative detriments in the other areas as well. The intent is to make sure that you’re optimizing each of those categories to make sure that you’re being the best Soldier that you possibly can.

“In this setting, we’re not only asking them to look at that for themselves personally but professionally,” McLean continued. “These are the senior leaders who are going to be in charge of those formations in just a few months. They’re going to be those sergeants major. Are they making sure their Soldiers are optimizing their performance with regards to sleep, activity, nutrition?”

Wellness assessment at USASMA reveals common problem: not enough sleep

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By CLIFFORD KYLE JONES
NCO Journal

When representatives from the Executive Wellness Center assessed Class 67 at the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy recently, they found themselves doling out the same advice to many of the sergeants-major-to-be: Get more sleep.

Lt. Col. Cyndi McLean was one of three medical professionals who reviewed students’ responses to a questionnaire about healthy habits related to the three elements of the Performance Triad — activity, nutrition and sleep.

McLean is a physical therapist and said one problem area came up over and over again.

“I would love to say that it was activity,” she said, but many of the students’ biggest shortcoming was sleep.

“A lot of them don’t realize what optimal sleep is,” she said. “They don’t realize healthy hygiene habits. It’s something that is very fixable. I think that we all sometimes jump to more of a clinical or medical diagnosis: ‘I have sleep apnea.’ Well, maybe there’s some room for improvement there and some things that we can do to help you in that category and not just give it a test, give it a label, give it a diagnosis. We really want to help you through that process to truly optimize your sleep.”

A student in the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy's Class 67 has his body fat composition checked. (Photo by Clifford Kyle Jones / NCO Journal)
A student in the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy’s Class 67 has his body fat composition checked. (Photo by Clifford Kyle Jones / NCO Journal)

At the beginning of their school year, the more than 600 students of Class 67 took part in the first assessments of the office’s new Executive Wellness Program. The program is intended to bring the Performance Triad and resilience training together to help the senior noncommissioned officers become better Soldiers and leaders.

McLean said that not getting enough sleep can be the root of many other performance problems. If Soldiers sleep better, she said, they start to see benefits in other areas, such as improved eating and activity levels and reduced anxiety.

Lt. Col. Devvon Bradley, a licensed clinical social worker who also took part in the assessments, agreed that sleep is the linchpin for performance.

“It’s interesting because, in here, every time I see a sleep problem up front, it leads to the nutrition issues and then the activity at the end,” he said. “There are pain issues and there are also dietary issues, almost like a direct correlate. If there are no sleep issues up front, it’s less likely that there are nutrition problems and less likely that there are physical problems — pain issues — at the end.

Lt. Col. Cyndi McLean, a physical therapist, speaks with a student in the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy's Class 67 during an assessment by the Executive Wellness Program. (Photo by Clifford Kyle Jones / NCO Journal)
Lt. Col. Cyndi McLean, a physical therapist, speaks with a student in the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy’s Class 67 during an assessment by the Executive Wellness Program. (Photo by Clifford Kyle Jones / NCO Journal)

“The connection between sleep, activity and nutrition? There’s no doubt in my mind about it,” he continued. “It’s a triad, and each one contributes to the other. If you can help one, you can help the others. It looks like sleep is in the lead, in terms of if you fix it first, you have a better chance of fixing the other stuff.”

McLean said that sleep issues not only lead to problems in other areas but also noted that not sleeping well can make it harder to resolve Soldiers’ other problems.

“If I see that you have a pain issue, but you’re not willing to address your sleep habits, I’m not going to be able to get you as good as I possibly could,” she said. “Your prognosis is going to be on the lesser side. Once those people open up (about sleep), it’s amazing how much of their chronic pain, their aches, their issues like that get better as well.”

As McLean, Bradley and registered dietitian Capt. Michelle Stone reviewed Class 67’s questionnaires, the future sergeants major were categorized as green, amber or red in each of the three Performance Triad areas.

“What I’m seeing on people’s faces is the lightbulb going on,” Bradley said.

Lt. Col. Devvon Bradley, a licensed clinical social worker, left, speaks with a student in the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy's Class 67 during an assessment for the Executive Wellness Program. (Photo by Clifford Kyle Jones / NCO Journal)
Lt. Col. Devvon Bradley, a licensed clinical social worker, left, speaks with a student in the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy’s Class 67 during an assessment for the Executive Wellness Program. (Photo by Clifford Kyle Jones / NCO Journal)

Many of the NCOs didn’t realize they were red in the sleep category, he said, and now they not only know they have a problem but also know where to get help.

Sgt. 1st Class Darin E. Elkins, the NCO in charge of the Executive Wellness Center, coordinated and led the assessments, and he saw the same lightbulbs turn on.

“Once you identify an area where you’re not doing well, you think, ‘Oh, I didn’t realize that. Oh, I didn’t realize that taking in two or three cups of coffee or energy drinks at 6 p.m. is impacting my sleep, which is impacting my cognitive abilities, which is impacting my output,’ ” Elkins said. “Once we’ve identified it for them and say here’s a way to better optimize these things that they’re doing, then they can start making the changes. If you always do what you’ve always done, you get the same outcomes.”

The assessments were just the beginning of the program. Throughout the school year, the students of Class 67 will be given more training on the Performance Triad and resilience, and Bradley expects their personal realizations and training will pay dividends well beyond these particular NCOs.

“They’re leaders in the Army,” Bradley said, “so when they go back out to their units, they will push the same message of science and wellness.”

204th Military Intelligence Battalion welcomes new NCOs

By MEGHAN PORTILLO
NCO Journal

Surrounded by exhibits depicting the greatness of the NCO Corps through the ages, nine new leaders were welcomed into the 204th Military Intelligence Battalion in an NCO induction ceremony Sept. 8 at the NCO Heritage and Education Center at Fort Bliss, Texas.

The inductees were addressed by guest speaker Sgt. Maj. Richard Tucker, who until his recent retirement was the director for the Battle Staff Noncommissioned Officer Course at the United States Army Sergeants Major Academy. (Photo by Meghan Portillo / NCO Journal)
The inductees were addressed by guest speaker Sgt. Maj. Richard Tucker, who until his recent retirement was the director for the Battle Staff Noncommissioned Officer Course at the United States Army Sergeants Major Academy. (Photo by Meghan Portillo / NCO Journal)

“These Soldiers have shown they are no longer ‘worker bees.’ They have set themselves apart as professionals,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Ken Bean, command sergeant major of the 204th Military Intelligence Battalion, 470th Military Intelligence Brigade. “I’m very proud of the NCOs in our NCO Corps and where they are today. I see them stepping up in a time of turmoil to train and take care of our nation.”

At the start of the ceremony, the inductees were addressed by guest speaker Sgt. Maj. Richard Tucker, who until his recent retirement was the director for the Battle Staff Noncommissioned Officer Course at the United States Army Sergeants Major Academy. He encouraged them to prioritize their education and to take their roles as Army leaders seriously.

Nine new NCOs were inducted into the 204th Military Intelligence Battalion on Thursday during a ceremony at the NCO Heritage Center at Fort Bliss, Texas. (Photo by Meghan Portillo / NCO Journal)
Nine new NCOs were inducted into the 204th Military Intelligence Battalion during a ceremony Sept. 8 at the NCO Heritage and Education Center at Fort Bliss, Texas. (Photo by Meghan Portillo / NCO Journal)

“People like me, I’m a dinosaur,” Tucker said. “It’s almost time for me to go. As a matter of fact, I walk the stage tomorrow for my retirement ceremony. And right now, I go to sleep every night nice and peaceful, because I know the greatest men and women of this country are protecting me. It’s you guys. You staff sergeants, sergeants first class: You are the future.”

Sgt. Davonte Winn walks under an archway, signifying his transition from junior enlisted Soldier to NCO. (Photo by Meghan Portillo / NCO Journal)
Sgt. Davonte Winn walks under an archway, signifying his transition from junior enlisted Soldier to NCO. (Photo by Meghan Portillo / NCO Journal)

Following Tucker’s address, the audience joined the inductees in reciting the NCO Creed. Then, three NCOs representing the NCOs of the past, present and future lit three candles displayed behind wooden “N,” “C” and “O” letters. A red candle represented valor, a white candle honor and integrity, and a blue candle vigilance.

As their names were called, the young men and women each walked under a wooden archway signifying their transition from junior enlisted to NCO and then signed their name alongside their command sergeant major’s on their certificate – the “Charge to the Newly Promoted Noncommissioned Officer.” To end the ceremony, the group proudly sang the Army song.

Sgt. Luis Peluyera Rivera, one of the nine inducted during the ceremony, said he is proud of his and his comrades’ accomplishments.

“I feel like I’ve made it. We are the backbone of the Army, and it is great to finally be a part of it,” he said.

The charge to the newly promoted noncommissioned officer, signed by both the NCO and the command sergeant major, states, “I will discharge carefully and diligently the duties of the grade to which I have been promoted and uphold the traditions and standards of the Army. I understand that Soldiers of lesser rank are required to obey my lawful orders. Accordingly, I accept responsibility for their actions. As a noncommissioned officer, I accept the charge to observe and follow the orders and directions given by supervisors acting according to the laws, articles and rules governing the discipline of the Army, I will correct conditions detrimental to the readiness thereof. In so doing, I will fulfill my greatest obligation as a leader and thereby confirm my status as a noncommissioned officer.” (Photo by Meghan Portillo / NCO Journal)
The charge to the newly promoted noncommissioned officer, signed by both the NCO and the command sergeant major, states, “I will discharge carefully and diligently the duties of the grade to which I have been promoted and uphold the traditions and standards of the Army. I understand that Soldiers of lesser rank are required to obey my lawful orders. Accordingly, I accept responsibility for their actions. As a noncommissioned officer, I accept the charge to observe and follow the orders and directions given by supervisors acting according to the laws, articles and rules governing the discipline of the Army, I will correct conditions detrimental to the readiness thereof. In so doing, I will fulfill my greatest obligation as a leader and thereby confirm my status as a noncommissioned officer.” (Photo by Meghan Portillo / NCO Journal)
Three NCOs acting on behalf of NCOs of the past, present and future light three candles. The red candle represents valor, the white honor and integrity, and the blue vigilance. (Photo by Meghan Portillo / NCO Journal)
Three NCOs acting on behalf of NCOs of the past, present and future light three candles. The red candle represents valor, the white honor and integrity, and the blue vigilance. (Photo by Meghan Portillo / NCO Journal)

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.”

Preparation for Master Leader Course well underway, set to launch next year

Complete #TRADOCtown hall coverage

By CLIFFORD KYLE JONES
NCO Journal

Training and Doctrine Command is making sweeping changes to many areas of the NCO Professional Military Education, but perhaps the most noticeable is a new requirement — the Master Leader Course.

“There’s been a gap for several years in our NCO Professional Development system between the Senior Leader Course and the Sergeant Major Course,” Command Sgt. Maj. Dennis E. Defreese, U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy commandant, said during TRADOC’s State of NCO Development Town Hall 2.

The MLC will be rolled out in October 2017, and pilot courses have been conducted.

“We’ve done the first three pilots. It’s an absolutely outstanding course,” Defreese said. “The feedback was unanimous as far as what they thought the course would bring to the Army.

Sgt. Maj. Brian O'Leary, Master Leader Course instructor, facilitates a class during the first pilot of the MLC at the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy at Fort Bliss, Texas. (Photo by David Crozier)
Sgt. Maj. Brian O’Leary, Master Leader Course instructor, facilitates a class during the first pilot of the MLC at the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy at Fort Bliss, Texas. (Photo by David Crozier)

“One, that it was going to make the Army immediately better once we fully field it,” he said. “It was unanimous that it was the first time that NCOs felt like the Army was investing in their education. And then the third part was that they actually felt like their time wasn’t being wasted going to the course.”

Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey Huggins, USASMA’s deputy commandant, added, “We refined it over those three pilots with the feedback from all the individuals who attended the course to what we’re going to produce now for the Army.

“One of the things I was really taken aback by as the comments came in is that they felt they would be immediately impactful to our Army as soon as they got back to their unit, and I don’t think there’s another course that has that,” he said.

One commenter on the town hall’s chat wondered how much of an effect a two-week course could have. Defreese responded, “Go to the course and you’ll see.”

He suggested reading an entry on TRADOC Command Sgt. Maj. David Davenport’s blog, written by a recent graduate of the course, Sgt. 1st Class Janna Escudé.

“The subjects themselves didn’t seem all that intimidating: leadership, management, operations, joint operations, Soldier readiness, and of course, communications. Fairly easy stuff, right? Well, let’s not forget we are transitioning from a tactical to an operational viewpoint,” Escudé wrote. “What did that mean to me? It meant I was now trying to see and plan for a much bigger picture than just my previous actions on the ground with my Soldiers. I thought I had some understanding, but I was nowhere prepared for the depth at which we would break down the operational environment.”

The course is 15 days straight, Defreese noted.

“It’s hard to describe how much more challenging it is than a Senior Leader Course or the Advanced Leader Course of the past,” he said.

Defreese, Huggins and USASMA Director of the Directorate of Training Charles Guyette fielded questions about many changes to NCO PME, but the MLC is one of the most obvious changes, and its implementation will pave the way for other adjustments.

During the town hall’s online chat, retired Command Sgt. Maj. Dan Elder – who was himself instrumental in improving the NCO Educational System while he was on active duty – asked where the instructors for the MLC would come from. Would they be “internal TRADOC positions or borrowed installation manpower?” he wondered.

Huggins said it would “probably be a combination to start.”

Huggins said a program for selecting instructors was in the works. He said instructors would have to be graduates of the program and take part in a faculty development program.

He said the course uses the experiential learning model, which is the new Army standard for education.

“Instead of just sitting and looking at PowerPoint slides, you’ll be put into an environment where you’ll have to have some shared content and understanding with your classmates,” he said. “It’ll be facilitated by these instructors, who have been through it, so that they know how to steer generally where they want the outcome to end up so there’s a visceral, physical response to the training. That’s going to allow you to remember what we taught you, not just see the Powerpoints and then turn it off when you’re done.”

It’s a model that’s been employed for years in the Sergeants Major Course, and will be increasingly used at all levels of NCO PME.

The first pilot was conducted at USASMA, which is based at Fort Bliss, Texas. The next two were at the National Guard Regional Training Institute at Camp Williams, Utah, and the Reserve Training Center at Fort Knox, Kentucky.

Reaching across components was done by design, Defreese said. Because graduating the course is a requirement, the pilots at the RTI and the RTC will create a solid base of instructors in the total force.

“The National Guard and Reserves, I think, will do just as well with educating their sergeants first class promotable as the active Army,” he said.

In the coming year, Defreese said, USASMA will conduct several initial operating courses to increase the number of qualified instructors and to validate the locations where the MLC will be taught.

A representative from TRADOC’s Institute of NCO Professional Development wrote on the town hall’s chatroom that the MLC would be taught at 10 locations in the continental United States using existing NCO academies, RTIs or RTCs and that mobile training teams would be used for MLC iterations overseas.

The rollout next year will coincide with a change to Structured Self Development: SSD5, which takes place after the Sergeants Major Course, will be renamed SSD6. The newly created SSD5 will take place between the MLC and the SMC.

“SSD5 and MLC will launch at the same time, but the first students probably won’t have to have completed SSD5,” Defreese said.

And don’t worry, sergeants major. Defreese said if an NCO has taken SSD5, his or her ERB will just repopulate with the renamed SSD6.

Huggins, Defreese and Guyette said one of the great benefits of the MLC is giving sergeants first class promotable an idea about what roles and responsibilities most master sergeants have. They said most Soldiers know what a typical first sergeant “looks like,” but other staff positions are a little harder to understand from the outside.

“There was a significant gap between sergeants first class coming out of their Senior Leader Course and them getting prepared to go to the Sergeant Major Course,” Guyette said. “And what it was was making that transition from the tactical environment — where they were pushing troops — and getting into strategic and operational thinking. …

“The other element of the course, though, is that it challenges them to be more critical thinking, problem-solving, do research and then put in application,” he said. “Because now you have to communicate effectively (in) writing, you have to communicate effectively (in) talking, briefing.”