40th ID: The history of the ‘Sunshine’ Division

For nearly 100 years, the Sunshine Division has protected California and the nation

By JONATHAN (JAY) KOESTER
NCO Journal

They may not have a song or a famous motto, but the 40th Infantry Division has a full, important history of protecting the citizens of California and the nation. It’s a history the division’s NCOs have worked to keep alive and relevant for almost 100 years.

The 40th ID was created on Sept. 16, 1917, from National Guard units from California, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah. Based at Camp Kearney in San Diego, Calif., the division was created after the United States joined World War I. Its well-known nickname and patch were created soon after, Sgt. Major Daniel Sebby said in a short history of the division he wrote for the California State Military Museum in Sacramento, Calif. Sebby is the museum’s curator.

Sgt. Jason Stevens, an agribusiness development horticulturist with the 40th ID, gathers a soil sample in November 2009 from a field in Marawara, Afghanistan. His group met with local farmers about their crop output in the area and gathered soil samples to learn how crop production might be increased in the area. (Photo by Tech Sgt. Brian Boisvert)
Sgt. Jason Stevens, an agribusiness development horticulturist with the 40th ID, gathers a soil sample in November 2009 from a field in Marawara, Afghanistan. His group met with local farmers about their crop output in the area and gathered soil samples to learn how crop production might be increased in the area. (Photo by Tech Sgt. Brian Boisvert)

“It was soon decided that the new division’s nickname would be the ‘Sunshine Division,’ since its patch was a sun on a field of blue,” Sebby wrote. “The division was one of the best-prepared for the great mobilization since a majority of the units had just been released from active duty on the Mexican border.”

Later, during the Korean War, Brig. Gen. Joseph Cleland changed the patch to a multicolored diamond sewn on laterally, calling it a ‘Ball of Fire,’ but an outcry from division veterans led to Cleland being admonished and the original patch’s return. Sgt. Major Javier Becerra, the G1 sergeant major at California’s Joint Force Headquarters in Sacramento, said 40th Infantry Division Soldiers quickly gain pride in their patch and their history.

“In the division, there are a lot of really proud Soldiers who really wear the patch with pride,” Becerra said. “We joke about the patch, but it’s all I’ve known.”

 

World War I

Though many Soldiers and NCOs from the 40th Division fought in World War I, they didn’t fight as part of the division, Sebby said.

“When the division arrived in France in August 1918, the Germans had just completed a series of offensives that started on March 21 and ended on July 15,” Sebby wrote. “These offensives were designed to destroy the American Expeditionary Force before it could be fully constituted. They almost succeeded. It was decided that the new divisions would be used as depot divisions, supplying fresh troops to the more experienced combat divisions. By the end of the war, the 40th Division provided more than 27,000 replacements to the 26th, 28th, 32nd, 77th, 80th, 81st, 82nd and 89th Divisions.”

By the end of World War I, 2,587 members of the 40th Division had been killed in action and 11,596 wounded. Another 103 died of their wounds at the Camp Kearney post hospital. On April 20, 1919, the division stood down. The division sprung back to life on June 18, 1926, with its headquarters first in Berkeley, Calif., before moving to Los Angeles in 1937.

 

World War II

Soldiers from the 40th ID arrive at Malaybalay, Mindanao, Phillippines, May 26, 1945. (Photo courtesy of the California State Military History Museum)
Soldiers from the 40th ID arrive at Malaybalay, Mindanao, Phillippines, May 26, 1945. (Photo courtesy of the California State Military History Museum)

By the day after the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese, elements of the 40th Division were sent to various strategic locations in Southern California to defend against what many thought would be an imminent attack.

Retired Master Sgt. Duane Whaley, 88, joined the 40th Division in 1940 and still lives in Southern California. He remembers the time well.

“We got the mission to guard the whole West Coast,” Whaley said. “My regiment, the 184th, guarded from the Mexican border all the way up to Oceanside (Calif.). We kept expecting an invasion from Japan.”

Though the attack never came, members of the 40th Division were tasked with rounding up civilians of Japanese descent living in California to relocate them to internment camps. In the book, The Fighting Fortieth in War and Peace, James D. Delk wrote about the division’s role.

“Japanese-Americans were moved into relocation camps starting in early February,” Delk wrote. “The 40th Division was tasked with moving these unfortunate civilians and for guarding their possessions. They were forced to quickly liquidate their homes, or arrange for non-Japanese friends to act as caretakers.”

In December 1942, the division moved to Guadalcanal in the South Pacific for training and combat patrolling, Delk said.

“By the middle of January (1943), the movement of the division from Oahu, Hawaii, had been completed,” Delk wrote. “Troops were ordered to always wear their helmets — not to protect themselves from the enemy, but from the very real danger of coconuts falling on their heads. There were coconuts everywhere, planted primarily by the Proctor & Gamble Co., and the heavy coconuts falling 60 or 70 feet could be deadly.”

Whaley said the training and patrols were some of the most difficult in his National Guard career.

Soldiers from the 40th ID arrive at Malaybalay, Mindanao, Phillippines, May 26, 1945. (Photo courtesy of the California State Military History Museum)
Soldiers from the 40th ID arrive at Malaybalay, Mindanao, Phillippines, May 26, 1945. (Photo courtesy of the California State Military History Museum)

“We started doing patrol work all through the jungles of Guadalcanal, looking for a spare Japanese someplace maybe left behind,” Whaley said. “Worst jungle I’ve seen in my life. Mosquitoes were so thick we had to wear a net over our helmets. That’s where I got malaria.”

By December 1944, the Soldiers of the 40th Infantry Division were preparing to depart toward the Philippines for their first major battles of the war, Delk wrote. On Dec. 1, 1944, Maj. Gen. Rapp Brush sent the following message to the Soldiers of the 40th Division:

“We are now entering the most important period in our lives and in the history of our division. The operation in which we are about to participate constitutes the culmination of three long years of war in the Pacific. I am sure that every member of the division is proud that we have been selected to participate in the spearhead attack on this vital objective.

“Through long periods of rigorous training we have molded and hardened ourselves into a highly efficient combat team. Those periods are now behind us. We are about to receive the real test. I feel that we are fully prepared to meet this test and bring the operation to a speedy and successful conclusion. I have the utmost confidence in you.

“Good luck and God bless you. THIS IS IT!”

Indeed, it was. The division attacked the Japanese at Luzon, Panay and Negros in the Philippines. By March 1, 1945, the enemy had been successfully driven into the mountains, Delk wrote.

“The division was proud of their first real combat,” he wrote. “After the bloody fighting for several weeks, the division was disappointed they were not selected to take Manila. Many Soldiers were convinced that ‘the brass’ didn’t want a National Guard regiment to take Manila, and sent in the Army’s 5th Cavalry (Regiment).”

Japanese staff studies captured in the battles showed how much respect they had for the 40th Division, Delk wrote.

“In the words of the Japanese staff officers, ‘The American ability to organize and deliver hard-driving assaults and their alertness in meeting our night raids was astonishing,’” he wrote. “They were particularly impressed with the division’s mortars, considering them to be the division’s most effective weapon.”

At the end of the fighting, the division was credited with killing or capturing 6,145 Japanese on Luzon, and with killing or capturing 4,732 Japanese on Panay and Negros. In the course of all its fighting during World War II, the 40th Division had 715 killed in action, plus five missing.

 

Korean War

Soldiers from the 40th Infantry Division fight during the Korean War. (Photo courtesy of the California State Military History Museum)
Soldiers from the 40th Infantry Division fight during the Korean War. (Photo courtesy of the California State Military History Museum)

Peace did not last long after the end of World War II. On June 25, 1950, the North Korean People’s Army invaded the southern Republic of Korea. A month later, the 40th Infantry Division was told to begin mobilizing for Korea. The division was first sent for training at Camp Cooke, Calif. In March 1951, the division’s Soldiers were sent to the Japanese island of Honshu. There they defended the north part of the island while continuing their preparation.

In January 1952, the members of the 40th Division were sent to Pusan, South Korea, to begin relieving the 24th Division on the front lines.

“When the troops arrived in Korea, they were immediately put into the front line,” Delk wrote. “As troops passed the war-weary veterans returning from the front lines, anxiety and apprehension were heightened. The veterans of the 24th Division looked physically tired and emotionally beat. As they pulled off the line into reserve, many of them whispered to 40th Soldiers as they passed, wishing them luck and a safe trip home next year.”

Arriving in January — in the middle of winter — didn’t help matters.

“As advertised, the troops found the sub-zero weather bitterly cold,” Delk wrote. “Many Soldiers would recall this period in Korea as the coldest time of their lives. Artillerymen had to be careful. When they swabbed the bore of their howitzers, water would drip and freeze, which formed a miniature ice rink below the breech. That made it extremely slippery and dangerous when servicing the weapon.”

The battles continued through 1952 and into 1953. By April 1953, the 40th Division was at the Ihyon-Ni-Kalbakkumi sector, nicknamed the “Punch Bowl” because of the natural features in the area. Later, the 40th Division replaced the 45th Infantry Division in the Heartbreak Ridge-Sandbag Castle area before a truce was declared on July 27, 1953.

Three 40th ID Soldiers were awarded Medals of Honor for actions in Korea. (Photo courtesy of the California State Military History Museum)
Three 40th ID Soldiers were awarded Medals of Honor for actions in Korea. (Photo courtesy of the California State Military History Museum)

The fighting in the Punch Bowl was so important to the Soldiers of the 40th Division, a silver punch bowl handmade during the era remains on display at the division’s headquarters at Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base in Long Beach, Calif.

“Maj. Gen. Ridgley Gaither had contracted with a Tokyo silversmith to craft a special punch bowl modeled on the Punch Bowl where the division had fought and suffered so many casualties, …” Delk wrote. “The artisan was given a relief map and told what was desired. He then crafted a replica of the ‘Punch Bowl,’ which was delivered with a ladle to the division several months later.”

During 342 days of combat in Korea, the 40th Division had 376 men killed in combat, 1,457 wounded in action and three Medals of Honor awarded.

On July 1, 1954, the day after demobilizing from Korea, the 40th Infantry Division became the 40th Armored Division. The 40th Infantry Division came back to life in January 1974.

 

Peacetime duties

In addition to their wartime duties, the Soldiers and NCOs of the 40th Infantry Division have what is likely the record for most activity during peacetime of any National Guard division.

“The 40th Division has always been headquartered in the most disaster-prone state in the nation,” Delk wrote. “There have been many disastrous earthquakes. … There have been innumerable forest fires and floods. And there have been the many riots in prisons, at the docks and in the cities, including the most destructive rioting in our nation’s history. The 40th Division was involved in all of them.”

One of the earliest examples of this was the riot at Folsom State Prison in 1927.

“In November of that year, prisoners at the Folsom State Prison seized control of the main buildings and took several of the staff as hostages,” Sebby wrote. “The warden was unable to control the situation and asked the governor [to send] the National Guard. Telephone calls and announcements over the radio were made. Theaters stopped their shows to announce, ‘All National Guardsmen report to your armory.’ The entire 184th Infantry Regiment and supporting troops … assembled and moved to Folsom. When the action was over, 11 inmates were dead and 11 wounded.”

Sgt. Maj. Javier Becerra, right, poses with a Los Angeles business owner after the 40th Infantry Division secured the streets after the riots in 1992 that started after the Rodney King verdict. (Photo courtesy of Sgt. Maj. Javier Becerra)
Sgt. Maj. Javier Becerra, right, poses with a Los Angeles business owner after the 40th Infantry Division secured the streets after the riots in 1992 that started after the Rodney King verdict. (Photo courtesy of Sgt. Maj. Javier Becerra)

In April 1992, the division was called to protect the people of California during the riots that erupted after four Los Angeles police officers were found not guilty in the beating of Rodney King. The violence in Los Angeles got so out of control that the division was federalized and reinforced by the 49th Military Police Brigade and 7th Light Infantry Division from Fort Ord, Calif., and the 1st Marine Division from Camp Pendleton, Calif.

Becerra was part of that mission and said what he remembered most was how grateful the residents were to have the Soldiers there keeping the area safe.

“All the lights were out when we pulled in,” Becerra said. “All the people thought we were going to kill them. But the minute the division got involved and was on the ground, everything ceased. I witnessed it; I was there. Everything ceased. There was no more violence.

“When we were on the streets, I remember people coming up to us and giving us food. People gave us keys to their stores in case we needed anything at night,” he said. “Of course we didn’t accept, but just the thought. They said they hadn’t had the feeling of peace on the streets where they could walk at night. When we left, people were literally in tears in the street.

“Wherever we went, we were welcomed,” Becerra said.

As part of a joint task force, Master Sgt. Timothy Kennedy of the 40th ID works side by side with soldiers from the Australian army and a U.S. Marine in July 2011 during Exercise Talisman Sabre 2011 at Kokoda Barracks, Queensland, Australia. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Emily Suhr)
As part of a joint task force, Master Sgt. Timothy Kennedy of the 40th ID works side by side with soldiers from the Australian army and a U.S. Marine in July 2011 during Exercise Talisman Sabre 2011 at Kokoda Barracks, Queensland, Australia. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Emily Suhr)

The work continues as NCOs ensure Soldiers of the 40th Infantry Division are ready for whatever hits California next, said Sgt. Maj. Sergio Porras, the operations sergeant major for the 160th Infantry Regiment, 40th Infantry Division.

“The planning that we are doing now is not just for earthquakes, not just for fires, not just for rescue. We’re actually planning a broad spectrum, from terrorist attacks to anytime local governments need support,” Porras said. “One of the things we’ve been mandated to do is talk to our local police department, our first responders, and have that relationship with them, to see what their needs are if something does happen.

“I just came from a two-day conference, and that’s all we did — plan how we’re going to support ourselves first, to support the community, either here in the Southern California area or in Northern California,” Porras said. “Because if something happens in Southern California, the Northern California forces, our sister battalions, will support us and vice versa.”

 

Moving forward

The NCOs of the 40th Infantry Division said they are proud of their history and use it to inspire their service in the present. Sgt. Maj. Angel Rocha, operations sergeant major for the 40th Division, talked about how his 160th Regimental coin reminds him of the past.

“All around [the coin] it has the history, like the Mexican border, World War I, World War II, Korea, … during [Operation] Desert Spring when they went over after 9/11 and [Operation] Iraqi Freedom,” Rocha said. “That’s all around the coin. We’re proud of the history, and we’re taking that and running with it. ‘Old Soldiers never die, they fade away.’ … They fade away because what we take from them is what makes the division keep on going. Their training is still part of the lineage. Hopefully we’ll pass it along.”

Sgt. 1st Class Edward Gonzales, personnel service NCO for the Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion of the 40th Infantry Division, said the history he sees at Los Alamitos each day inspires him.

A silver punch bowl, made to commemorate fighting during the Korean War, sits at the headquarters of the 40th Infantry Division at Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base, Calif. The division’s Medal of Honor winners are also on display. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester)
A silver punch bowl, made to commemorate fighting during the Korean War, sits at the headquarters of the 40th Infantry Division at Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base, Calif. The division’s Medal of Honor winners are also on display. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester)

“The history of the 40th Infantry Division has affected me because I like to know about the men who have gone before me,” Gonzales said. “Here at Los Alamitos at division headquarters, we have a foyer displaying the Medal of Honor recipients during the Korean campaign, lots of pictures on the wall from Soldiers in the Second World War, and that gives me a lot of pride. I came off of active duty from the 82nd [Airborne Division]; when joining this unit, I realized that we had just as much glory and honor as the 82nd had during the Second World War.

“The one big thing that stands out that I don’t think I really appreciated when I was in the 82nd is that the 40th Infantry Division is made up of citizen-Soldiers in the true sense,” Gonzales said. “They have an outside life. They are civilians, and then when they are called upon, they put on the uniform and serve. Having deployed with them a couple of times now, I realize how important that is. In 30 days, you could find yourself overseas somewhere. And to think that we’ve been doing that ever since the First World War, it’s impressive how the members of this division quickly train up and take their part in history.

“I think it’s important that our Soldiers know that they come from a long line,” Gonzales said.

Remembering the difficult battles of the past and how hard Soldiers had it is also a good source of inspiration, Porras said.

“It inspires me because it’s really humbling to know their experience,” Porras said. “These gentlemen have put their lives on the line for us before we even got here, and some of the stories they tell us, they really had it hard. In comparison to what we have today, we’re living the life of luxury. It’s pretty inspirational, and in my battalion, I try to teach my junior NCOs, ‘Hey, this is important, and here are the reasons why. Right now you might not understand it, but if you reach the senior ranks and you’re involved in planning and other things, this is stuff you need to consider.’”

Recent cutbacks in the division had Becerra thinking about more ways to preserve and honor the sacrifice of those who have come before.

“When we get our new troops in, one of the things I have them do is walk down the hall and see some of the division history,” Becerra said. “I want them to know at least a little bit about the division. I think the bottom line is we have to teach our young Soldiers the history, because one day, the division is going to be gone. And all that is going to be left of the 40th Division when they tear down this building is what we remember.” ♦

 

40th ID Timeline

  • April 6, 1917: United States enters World War I.
  • Sept. 16, 1917: The 40th Division is organized at Camp Kearny, Calif.
  • Aug. 31, 1918: All 40th Division troops have been sent to Europe.
  • June 18, 1926: 40th Division headquarters established in Berkeley, Calif.
  • Nov. 24–26, 1927: 40th helps control Folsom Prison riots.
  • March 10, 1933: 40th Division troops respond to Long Beach earthquake.
  • July 5, 1934: 40th Division elements activated for longshoremen’s strike in San Francisco.
  • Dec. 7, 1941: Japanese attack Pearl Harbor. 40th Division immediately provides security for southern California.
  • July 8, 1942: 40th Division starts move to Hawaii, completed in early October 1942.
  • Dec. 20, 1943: 40th Division leaves for Guadalcanal.
  • April 23, 1944: Elements of the 40th Division relieve 1st Marine Divsion on New Britain, Papua New Guinea.
  • Jan. 9, 1945: 40th Division invades Luzon, Philippines.
  • June 15–18, 1945: 40th Division elements return from Negros to Panay.
  • Aug. 14, 1945: Japan accepts unconditional surrender terms.
  • April 7, 1946: 40th Division inactivated at Camp Stoneman, Calif.
  • Oct. 14, 1946: 40th Division reorganized and federally recognized at Los Angeles.
  • Sept. 1, 1950: 40th Division activated for Korea. Advance party departs for Camp Cooke (now Vandenberg Air Force Base).
  • April 10, 1951: 40th Division advance elements arrive in Japan. Division given mission of defending north Honshu while training.
  • Dec. 22, 1951: 40th Division alerted for move to Korea to relieve 24th ID.
  • Jan. 6, 1952: First ship departs Japan for Korea with first  elements of the 40th Division.
  • Jan. 20, 1952: 40th Division’s first loss in the Korean War was Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth Kaiser Jr., killed near Kumsong.
  • April 1952: Enemy probes of the division’s lines increase. A total of 3,636 enemy rounds hit in April.
  • May 1952: Fewer contacts initiated by the enemy. A total of 2,722 enemy mortar and artillery rounds hit in May.
  • June 26–28, 1952: 2nd Republic of Korea Division relieves the 40th ID.
  • Oct. 16, 1952: 40th ID ordered to relieve 25th Division in the Paem-Ihyon-Ni sector.
  • April 27, 1953: 40th Division deploys across Ihyon-Ni-Kalbakkumi (Punch Bowl) sector.
  • May 8, 1954: Final review of 40th Division in Republic of Korea.
  • June 30, 1954: 40th ID is released from active federal service and reverts to state control.
  • July 1, 1954: 40th Infantry Division reorganizes and is redesignated as the 40th Armored Division.
  • Jan. 25-27, 1956: 40th AD elements assist during floods in Los Angeles area.
  • Aug. 13–24, 1965: 40th AD employed to control the Watts Riots in Los Angeles.
  • Jan. 13, 1974: 40th ID (Mechanized) is organized and federally recognized with its headquarters in Long Beach, Calif.
  • April 1981: 40th ID headquarters moved to Los Alamitos Joint Forces training base.
  • April–May 1992: 40th ID employed to control Los Angeles riots after the Rodney King verdict.
  • Jan. 17, 1994: After the Northridge earthquake, 40th Division elements establish tent cities and provide security.
  • From Sept. 11, 2001, to present day: Elements of the 40th Infantry Division have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Division’s Soldiers remain on guard and on watch to help after natural disasters or other emergencies in California.

By Example: ‘Always be a leader’

By JENNIFER MATTSON
NCO Journal

Staff Sgt. Andrew Dugger served eight and a half years with the Marines, deploying to Afghanistan after 9/11 and later to Iraq. He joined the Army to continue to work toward a military retirement. Since joining the Army in 2005, he has served as a recruiter, Master Resilience Trainer and in his primary occupational specialty as a 92W water treatment specialist.

How do you set the example for your Soldiers?
The best example I’m able to set is to do what I’m supposed to do and be where I’m supposed to be. My Soldiers are a reflection of me. Whatever I do, I know they are going to emulate that, whether it’s good or bad. So I always try to portray a positive image.

Staff Sgt. Andrew Dugger, assigned to A Company, 210th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, inspects the tie down chains for potable water blivets Sept. 10 at Fort Drum, N.Y. (Photo by Spc. Candace Foster)
Staff Sgt. Andrew Dugger, assigned to A Company, 210th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, inspects the tie down chains for potable water blivets Sept. 10 at Fort Drum, N.Y. (Photo by Spc. Candace Foster)

What advice do you pass onto your Soldiers?
I tell them that they have to gain as much knowledge as they can — as much as for themselves as for their Soldiers. I encourage them to go to as many military schools as they can and pursue civilian education. As leaders, they should never forget that they need to take care of their own careers. It’s too easy to get so caught up being a leader and taking care of your Soldiers’ careers that you forget to take care of your own. For example, you might be so caught up in maintaining your Soldiers’ records that you forget to take care of your own and, in the process, you might be passed up for promotion.

How has Army training helped you?
Army training has helped me develop as a leader by allowing me to go to a variety of military schools. The Army has also put me in a variety of challenging assignments, allowing me to gain knowledge and a variety of different skill sets. On recruiting duty, it got me to talk to people in different ways. In Master Resilience Training, it gave me the big picture and how to address those situations by having a positive outlook.

How have other NCOs helped your career?
When I first came into the Army, I came in as an E-5. Staff Sgt. Martin had told me to learn as much as I can about the Army regulations and live the NCO Creed. Another, Sgt. 1st Class Teleforo, told me to always be who I say I am. NCOs like that are always pushing you to do better and be better than who you are.

What would you like to see adopted in the Army?
I would like to see the Army use more drill and ceremony. It shows that Soldiers are capable of a variety of tasks and gives NCOs the opportunity to have a sense of command and control over their element. If Soldiers have an understanding of obedience to orders, that allows new NCOs to become comfortable giving commands and seeing those commands executed. It builds and shows the discipline of the unit. But most of all, it shows a sense of pride in the unit.

What advice do you have for other NCOs?
A lot of NCOs might focus on the Soldier who’s doing the wrong thing. Though you have to take care of the wayward Soldiers, you also have to focus on commending the Soldiers who deserve it. Always be who you say you are. Always be a leader of Soldiers. Always set the standard and be that standard-bearer. Know that whatever we do as NCOs, someone is watching us; whatever we’re displaying, that’s what our Soldiers will see. So it’s important to always maintain that positive image. If you’re a noncommissioned officer, then that’s who you are — you’re a leader. We should always lead by example.

NCOs teach the way at West Point

Tactical NCOs help develop the best commissioned officers at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point

By CHRISTY LATTIMORE-STAPLE
NCO Journal

Some of the U.S. Army’s best noncommissioned officers are stationed at West Point, N.Y., developing cadets at the U.S. Military Academy. There, tactical NCOs play a pivotal role as the academy’s military integrators — teaching, mentoring and training the cadets with a focus on leadership development and inherent responsibilities. They oversee cadets and their development in academic studies, understanding of military roles and responsibilities, and physical capabilities. All formerly platoon sergeants, drill sergeants or first sergeants, the tactical NCOs have one goal — to teach, inspire, mentor and motivate cadets to become the most prepared and qualified newly commissioned officers the U.S. military has to offer.

Washington Hall at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. (Photo by Beverly Cooper)
Washington Hall at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.
(Photo by Beverly Cooper)

“Here in the Department of Military Instruction, we are the military component for military instruction here at West Point,” said Master Sgt. Lonnie L. Schultz, senior enlisted advisor for the department. The NCO instructors at West Point were chosen because of their military expertise from the Army, he said.

“Most of the NCOs here, including myself, just got back from either Afghanistan or Iraq within the last year. We bring that battlefield knowledge to the classroom,” he said. “What the cadets see on paper and in textbooks about actual events, they can visualize it better when we explain how it actually happens. Then they understand it more.”

NCOs use various methods to teach military tactics, Schultz said.

“When I teach a lesson plan, I like to show a video of it. Then, I also share my own experiences,” he said. “If NCOs were not here, the cadets would not get that firsthand account from our own experiences.”

Cadets are being prepared for a new battlefield environment by learning how to think outside the box and make sound decisions.

“Being a part of the Army before 9/11, we trained to fight that uniform army that would be wearing bullet-proof vests and that was going to maneuver on us,” Schultz said. “Then, the decision-making process was pretty easy because it was like playing chess — if they did one thing, then we were going to do something else. However nowadays, you have to teach these cadets to think to make a decision. The most important skill a cadet can learn is how to make a decision.

“As an NCO, I try to give the cadets a base of tactical knowledge of how we operate as a military to make a decision and be creative. That’s the most important thing — to be creative and make sound tactical decisions, but more importantly make a decision and stand by their decision,” Schultz said. “I tell my cadets the worst thing they can do is get out there, not make a decision and let things happen. Doing nothing is the worst thing a Soldier can do.”

Cadets learn to think like the enemy and anticipate their actions.

Above: Three cadets work in a group to come up with a plan of action for protecting their unit during an exercise in an enemy analysis and anticipation course. (Photo by Christy Lattimore-Staple)
Three cadets work in a group to come up with a plan of action for protecting their unit during an exercise in an enemy analysis and anticipation course. (Photo by Christy Lattimore-Staple)

“I teach enemy analysis and anticipating a course of action,” said Sgt. 1st Class Thomas E. Larkin, instructor in the Department of Military Instruction. “In my class, the cadets are taught when planning their operations orders to think like the enemy and what would the [enemy] do. The exercises I give in my class are to get the cadets to think when they actually go out on a mission. It gives their platoon a heads-up on what things they could encounter from the enemy.”

Cadets are shown the importance of their roles as future officers for the U.S. military.

“As an NCO and their instructor, I try to instill in them the importance of their [future] position,” Larkin said. “They will be in charge of 30 to 35 Soldiers’ lives in a platoon, depending on the military branch. That will always grab their attention.”

NCOs teach the cadets the importance of relying on the experiences of others to solve a problem.

“In class, we make them work in teams,” Larkin said. “I teach the cadets that when they are a platoon leader, they are not going to always get an answer by themselves. They will have to go to their company commander or their peers. Because of that, the cadets are able to bond because they are working together.”

Cadets are assigned to a company or regiment at West Point, which teaches them the inner-workings of the military chain of command. From year to year, cadets will gain the experience of having a leadership position and the roles and responsibilities that go with that duty.

“In our company, cadets receive a military developmental grade that reflects their leadership and their positions here within the company or regiment,” said Sgt. 1st Class Edmund Saldarini, a tactical instructor for F Company, 4th Regiment. “We are grading cadets on their positions as the first sergeant — what he does and how well he does it, what kind of initiative he has or lack of. It’s the same process for the company commander and all the other positions.”

Sgt. 1st Class Thomas E. Larkin, an instructor in the Department of Military Instruction, teaches his cadets how to think like the enemy and anticipate courses of action. (Photo by Christy Lattimore-Staple)
Sgt. 1st Class Thomas E. Larkin, an instructor in the Department of Military Instruction, teaches his cadets how to think like the enemy and anticipate courses of action. (Photo by Christy Lattimore-Staple)

Knowing how to counsel is a big part of an officer’s job and each time it’s practiced it builds confidence in the cadets.

“I talk to the platoon sergeants formally once a week,” Saldarini said. “I bring them in, we sit, and I ask them about their relationship with their officers.”

“I ask them about the cadets in their platoon. Who is the best cadet? Who is having problems or any issues? How are they handling certain situations? I want to make sure they are getting involved with their subordinates, doing what an NCO cadet is supposed to do.”

“We really push cadets to understand that the NCO is not the big bad wolf,” said Sgt. 1st Class Clifton E. Rush, tactical instructor and NCOIC for F Company, 2nd Regiment. “The sergeants and platoon sergeants are not against you, I tell my cadets.”

Cadets are taught to respect rank and the responsibilities that come with being an officer.

“Here, respect is heavily stressed,” Rush said. “I teach my cadets not to be the hot head. Don’t go off without all the information. I give my cadets the example of when I was a young sergeant: We were changing tires at a launching station, and the lieutenant came in and flew off the handle. ‘Why is LS3 [launcher] here?’ he yelled. ‘LS3 should have been at this place at this time, and that was an hour and half ago!’ The NCO at the time had to tell him, ‘Sir, the launcher that was scheduled to leave was LS5.’

“What happened was the lieutenant lost face not only with that junior NCO, but also those Soldiers he locked up and was yelling at,” Rush said. “Through coaching, teaching and mentoring — all these things put together — we can teach cadets how not to do that, how not to lose face. Something as simple as taking a step back and finding out what is going on by pulling someone to the side to ask a question — that is a lot better than just flying off the handle without any information. Communication is absolutely key to doing better.”

A cadet draws his unit’s plan of action for a mission during a 360-degree security analysis exercise. (Photo by Christy Lattimore-Staple)
A cadet draws his unit’s plan of action for a mission during a 360-degree security analysis exercise. (Photo by Christy Lattimore-Staple)

Tactical NCOs find their jobs rewarding, but teaching subject matter to cadets who may not understand its importance can be challenging. West Point cadets take classes in their chosen major but also have to take classes in the Military Science Department.

“The biggest challenge is keeping the cadets’ attention,” Larkin said. “For some of them, they think their other classes more of a priority. But most cadets are willing to learn.”

“In the Military Science Department we teach a lot of infantry- and combat arms-related subject matter,” Schultz said. “Some of these kids know they are not going to go infantry, but it’s important they learn about it.

“You have some of these cadets who are extremely talented and in their other classes learning nuclear physics,” Schultz said. “But when they come to the DMI department, they may struggle. “But [the importance] really hits home when we do cadet summer training. They get out there and are in leadership positions,” he said. “We’ve taught them about platoon operations, leading a platoon, operations orders, writing mission statements, doing tactical tasks. But when they get out there on the field, they realize how difficult it is to actually be in charge of a platoon.

“Then there are cadets who come to West Point because they wanted to get a military education, and they are going to serve in the military — that’s their focus here,” Schultz said. “When they are across the street in their other classes, they may struggle with calculus. But they can come in here and can whip out an operations order likes there’s no tomorrow.

“We are trying to incorporate a new branching model so it will give those cadets who are top-ranked in their academic classes across the road the classes they want, and those cadets who want to be in infantry, in the combat field, will have their opportunity,” he said.

 

Teach, inspire, mentor, motivate

Through teaching and coaching, tactical NCOs inspire, mentor and motivate their cadets to do more.

“I sincerely enjoy my job,” Saldarini said. “I like teaching, mentoring — everything I do here at the academy. To have the ability to mold these future officers, my future leaders, and to have an impact on them is an honor.”

Cadets make their way to their next class during their busy day at West Point. (Photo by Christy Lattimore-Staple)
Cadets make their way to their next class during their busy day at West Point. (Photo by Christy Lattimore-Staple)

NCOs feel that inspiring young cadets is a privilege.

“As an NCO, one of the greatest honors that I have had while being here at the academy was graduation day,” Saldarini said. “The cadet regiment commander, my company commander, company executive officer — which are three big command positions cadets have to be chosen for — asked me to provide them with their first salute. Officers, if you ask them, they will tell you who their first salute was, because it’s special to them. And it was special to me. As an NCO, to have such an impact on their lives, it was truly an honor.”

The tactical NCOs have various teaching styles, but they all work to get the cadets to understand the lesson material.

“I try to keep my classroom in a relaxed atmosphere,” Larkin said. “The first 10 minutes of class, I let the cadets ask me any questions they have about the Army. I am a loud person, and I like to joke with the cadets at times. I try to keep my classroom learning environment lively, to keep my cadets’ attention. But most importantly, I make sure they understand the subject matter.”

One thing they learn is how and when to do a counseling.

“As an NCO, I mentor seven cadets here,” Schultz said. “I personally sit down with them, and because their parents are not here, I have become that role for them. A lot of cadets seek out that parent figure; they look for motivation. They love to hear the NCOs combat stories and about our own experiences.”

Tactical NCOs also have the opportunity to teach by example and show how the officer and NCO relationship is supposed to work.

A class of cadets sits outside listening to a lecture about the Cadet Code. (Photo by Christy Lattimore-Staple)
A class of cadets sits outside listening to a lecture about the Cadet Code. (Photo by Christy Lattimore-Staple)

“The cadets love to hear about the officer-NCO relationship,” Schultz said. “Cadets will ask me, ‘How am supposed to go and work with a guy who already has 10 years in the Army, and this is my first year?’ In that [officer] role, they will have to be able to counsel that person. They have be able to stand in front of that platoon, where some of those Soldiers may be the same age as them — their peers — and have more service in the military and know more about their job than they do.”

The more counseling the cadets do, the more comfortable they are doing it.

“I make all my cadets counsel me, every three or four months,” Schultz said. “I give my cadets homework assignments like writing an award. I will give them a situation where they have to figure out the course of action, which sometimes includes counseling. It is some of those things that the cadets really need.”

 

The successful cadet

The Tactical NCOs have a theory on what makes a successful cadet — accountability, drive, dedication, selfless service and responsibility.

“The most important thing is accountability and the love and drive for what you do to become a successful cadet, officer, Soldier and NCO,” Rush said. “I tell these cadets all the time: I can train you how to drill, I can make you better at PT, I can teach you how to do anything in any manual. But if you don’t have heart, if you don’t have that thing inside of you that makes you want to be here, then I can’t help you. I tell them that their hearts have to be in it and that if they are unsure about what they want to do, then we need to get some counseling, we need to do some reflecting, we need to talk about what they are really here for.”

Cadets stand on the parade field during a ceremony at West Point. (Photo courtesy of West Point Public Affairs)
Cadets stand on the parade field during a ceremony at West Point. (Photo courtesy of West Point Public Affairs)

“You have to be dedicated,” Schultz said. “I have seen some of the best cadets and some of the worst cadets. What it really boils down to is the level of their dedication. Cadets have to have something within that is bigger than them. Because to come here, most kids don’t say, ‘I am going to get my degree, then go work for a Fortune 500 company.’”

Most cadets’ focus is a commitment to serve their country.

“They know that there is more,” Schultz said. “During the cadets’ third year, they go through their affirmation ceremony, during which they commit to seven years in the military. Unfortunately, less than half of the cadets stay in the military after those seven years.”

Because the cadets hold different positions and ranks, the experience is a building block to teach responsibility.

When cadets become platoon leaders, they become responsible for everything that platoon does or fails to do.

“As their instructor, I want the cadets to take that responsibility now,” Larkin said. “It’s serious, and I want my cadets to take it seriously. I am not trying to scare them, but I want them to understand the importance of their job. I tell them that I do not want you or any of your Soldiers to get hurt or die on a deployment because you did not take responsibility for your actions or did not take that leadership role.”

 

West Point education

Cadets receive a top-notch military education and training from the U.S. Military Academy, Larkin said.

“The training we give during the summer cannot be beat,” he said. “The cadets experience a lot of leadership roles where they have a lot of responsibility to take on. Here cadets get to see what officers and NCOs are actually like. We are their first impression. With the NCO instructors here, cadets should gain the confidence that their NCOs are good, strong leaders.”

Sgt. 1st Class Edmund Saldarini (left), instructor for F Company, 4th Regiment, stands with cadets Alex Kim, Dan Park, John Janigian, Colin Mansfield, Dan Bryce. (Photo by Mary Saldarini)
Sgt. 1st Class Edmund Saldarini (left), instructor for F Company, 4th Regiment, stands with cadets Alex Kim, Dan Park, John Janigian, Colin Mansfield, Dan Bryce. (Photo by Mary Saldarini)

Cadets will be able to use the military and academic material they learn in their branch of service, Schultz said.

“I think the academic environment that we teach these cadets in is outstanding,” he said. “I have cadets in my class who are studying Arabic, and some of their degree studies are down in the Defense Strategic Services, where they are going to learn how battles were fought, what the key players did or didn’t do. Those cadets are going to the Army, where they are going to apply that knowledge.

“There will never be a price that could be put on getting an education here, especially as we try to push more Soldiers and NCOs into college to get everyone more schooling,” Schultz said. “The advantages these cadets are going to have are many, because they are going to apply the military aspect and the schooling aspect to their jobs in the military.”

 

NCOs’ advice

Tactical NCOs have words of wisdom to share with their cadets — their future officers.

“I think that the culture we have in the Army — being on a team, supporting the unit, sacrifice — we instill that from day one, whether they are a cadet at West Point or an enlisted Soldier,” Rush said. “We teach them to respect rank and authority and that having that authority over others is a privilege, one that can be very easily taken away.”

NCOs and officers have to be aware of the importance of their roles and how their relationship should work.

Sgt. 1st Class Edmund Saldarini renders the first salute to 2nd Lt. Angela Smith as her family watches. (Photo by Colin Mansfield)
Sgt. 1st Class Edmund Saldarini renders the first salute to 2nd Lt. Angela Smith as her family watches. (Photo by Colin Mansfield)

“NCOs and officers should be aware of their individual roles, how they overlap and the responsibility of those roles,” Rush said. “If we allow ourselves, or our peers or our leaders, to do things just because they can or because they can get away with it, then that’s not right. That’s not living up to the seven Army Values. That’s not in the Creed of the NCO. That’s not what’s in the Officer’s Creed or in the Oath of Enlistment. I teach my cadets that they must always take the harder way. It’s a great privilege to have greater responsibility.”

Part of being a good leader is knowing and caring about one’s Soldiers.

“My advice to a new graduating lieutenant is to have a true concern for your Soldiers, your platoon,” Larkin said. “No matter who they are, what branch they are, they should have a genuine concern for their Soldiers.

“I do not want them to be one of those lieutenants who sits in the office and does not know their Soldiers. I want that platoon leader to know if his Soldier has a drinking problem or whatever the issue may be. But I also want that leader to know what their Soldiers’ hobbies are, what they like to do, where that Soldier may be from — not be their friend, but know their Soldiers, know their platoon.”

NCOs instill the meaning of the profession of being an officer.

“The cadets are taught by the military, they live with the military, they are totally immersed in everything that has to do with the military,” Schultz said. “That’s one of the many things I try to instill in them, to make them never forget what their profession is — the profession they chose — the profession of arms. A profession is something you do for the rest of your life.”

Relying on the NCO Creed or Officer’s Creed is a pathway to success, the academy’s NCOs said.

“Do the right thing all the time and live by the NCO Creed, or for officers, the Officer’s Creed,” Saldarini said. “That’s the most important advice I can give. The NCO Creed will not set you up for failure; it will always set you up for success. I keep the NCO Creed on my desk. I look at it all the time. It’s very important to me as an NCO. It tells me how to be an NCO, what to do as an NCO. By following it, I set my officers up for success.” ♦

 

West Point’s Department of Military Instruction

  • Military Science: The West Point Core Military Science Program consists of three 40-lesson courses that prepare cadets for tactical leadership. The program is outcome-based and teaches sound decision-making under pressure. Instructors emphasize the principles that underlie U.S. Army Doctrine while avoiding reliance on checklists and set processes. The curriculum is designed to strengthen cadet character and adaptability.
  • Military Training: The Military Training branch plans, coordinates and executes Cadet Summer Training and the Sandhurst Competition. MT officers coordinate with the Army Accessions Command to program Army Common Core Tasks concurrent with the Basic Officer Leader Course program into the cadets’ 47-month USMA experience. Every MT officer and NCO instructs Military Science courses during the academic year.
  • Cadet Summer Training: Cadet Summer Training provides all four classes with challenging, realistic military training commensurate with their respective level of development. The broader purpose is the inspiration and development of each cadet as a future Army officer.
  • Defense and Strategic Studies: A degree in Defense and Strategic Studies prepares cadets for many positions in the military, the U.S. government and various civilian professions. Cadets are prepared for the complexities of modern warfare and a lifetime of service to the nation through the wide range of approved electives, which develop well-rounded leaders.
  • Department of Physical Education: The Department of Physical Education strives to develop warrior leaders of character who are physically and mentally tough by engaging cadets in activities that promote and enhance a healthy lifestyle, physical fitness, movement behavior and psychomotor performance.
  • Simon Center for the Professional Military Ethic: The William E. Simon Center for the Professional Military Ethic educates, trains and inspires leaders of character in the Corps of Cadets through the development, coordination and integration of the Professional Military Ethic in the curriculum and activities at West Point.

Toolkit: Teaching Soldiers financial readiness

By JENNIFER MATTSON
NCO Journal

When he married Carole, who was debt-free with nine children from a previous marriage, Master Sgt. Tony Colon had five children of his own and $25,000 of debt.

Committed to becoming debt free in two years, the couple home schooled four of their children and Carole began working the night shift at Wal-Mart. And in 22 months, the couple was able to become financially independent.

Financial counselor Alice Lane, talks with Staff Sgt. Thomas Tichy about the classes she teaches at the Soldier and Family Assistance Center at Fort Hood, Texas. They include credit management, car and home buying, consumer awareness and ID theft, insurance, banking, and budgeting. (Photo by Gloria Montgomery)
Financial counselor Alice Lane, talks with Staff Sgt. Thomas Tichy about the classes she teaches at the Soldier and Family Assistance Center at Fort Hood, Texas. They include credit management, car and home buying, consumer awareness and ID theft, insurance, banking, and budgeting. (Photo by Gloria Montgomery)

Tony and Carole, who have taught financial management classes at Fort Campbell, Ky., for Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers retreats, the families of the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) and for their church, now help other Soldiers and their families learn about the basics of finances and budgeting. Their lessons include how to save for retirement, pay off credit card debt and establish an emergency fund.

“Creating a budget is easy. The hard part is execution,” Tony Colon said. “Personal finance is 80 percent behavior and only 20 percent head knowledge. It takes at least 90 days of money planning for it to stick and to become a natural occurrence each month.”

The Colons teach their financial management class during a 13-week personal finances program, but can also give a 90-minute presentation if they’re called upon by groups needing a shorter time commitment.

Since they started teaching the program, more than 250 Soldiers and their families have graduated their personal finance program. All totaled, they have reported a $1.9 million change in their monetary positions, which includes paying off debts and putting additional money into savings.

web-creating-budget-infoboxIn particular, NCOs have a responsibility to keep their finances in order, Colon said, as they are expected to lead by example when it comes to financial readiness.

“As leaders, the most important thing an NCO can do when dealing with their Soldiers’ finances is to ensure that their own finances are good to go,” Colon said. “Leaders have very little authority when it comes to the spending habits of their Soldiers until their Soldier gets in trouble for missing payments or falling behind on child support. Only then can an NCO and his commander get involved and mandate that the Soldier take care of the past due accounts.”

A proactive approach is far less costly, Colon said.

“It is far better for NCOs and officers to ensure that they are living within their means, are saving for emergencies and have a plan for retirement,” he said. “Leading by example will encourage others to do so and only then will there be less financial stress in the unit.”

Removing financial stress from a unit is a tall task. Because it affects mission readiness, though, it’s essential that NCOs mentor junior Soldiers on how to keep their finances under control, Colon said.

“It has been said that money is not the most important thing in the world,” he said. “However, it is the only thing that touches and affects every area of our lives. Having your financial house in order will enhance your overall combat readiness.

“When a Soldier, single or married, has an emergency fund established, savings, investments and little, or better yet, no debt, they are able to concentrate on the mission at hand.”

For more advice, calculators and to play the Army Financial Literacy Game, visit Army OneSource’s financial readiness page at https://www.myarmyonesource.com/familyprogramsandservices/financialreadiness

 

Warning signs

Below are some signs that you might need to create a budget and work toward paying off your debts. They can also be red flags as you assess your Soldiers’
financial readiness.

  • 20% or more of your take-home pay is used to make credit card payments.
  • Loans: You have one or more loans from a lending company that charges 20% or more in interest.
  • You screen phone calls to avoid debt or bill collectors.
  • Overdraft protection is constantly being used, depleting your savings.
  • Frequent past-due bills or bills that you continually fail to pay on time.
  • Paying only the minimum amount on your credit cards.
  • Paycheck advances or payday loans are part of your regular budget.
  • A car loan that is financed at 12% or more interest.

Battle Staff NCO Course: Providing assets to the battlefield

By STAFF SGT. JASON STADEL
NCO Journal

The tactical operations center is the collective brain behind any battlefield operation. From headquarters at the battalion, up to a corps (and often higher), the TOC is a bustling network of Soldiers, computers, projectors and charts. It’s where staff sections come together to issue orders and make battlefield decisions. It’s almost a supercomputer of officers and NCOs working together to update the commander and support troops on the ground.

Throughout their careers, officers are schooled on the types of situations that might arise in a TOC. To assist them, the Battle Staff Noncommissioned Officer Course will give NCOs the same type of training so they can excel alongside their officer counterparts and become TOC assets in their own right.

The BSNCOC is for any staff sergeants to sergeants major who are working in a staff position, regardless of their military occupation specialty. NCOs not working on a headquarters staff can apply for a waiver to attend the course.

Staff Sgt. Chantel Duhart of the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, reviews course work during a resident Battle Staff NCO Course class at the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy at Fort Bliss, Texas. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Jason Stadel)
Staff Sgt. Chantel Duhart of the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, reviews course work during a resident Battle Staff NCO Course class at the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy at Fort Bliss, Texas. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Jason Stadel)

BSNCOC is taught by resident instructors at the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy at Fort Bliss, Texas; at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa.; at Camp Williams, Utah; and at Fort McCoy, Wisc. The course is also taught via video teletraining from USASMA around the world. When NCOs successfully complete the course they are awarded the “2S” skill identifier.

All BSNCOC instructors and staff are graduates of the course, said Sgt. Maj. Richard Beaver, BNCOSC’s director.

“That NCO can go out and can help the command and the staff officers in the military decision-making process,” he said. “That NCO will be exposed to 28 hours of [MDMP] here, which allows that NCO to be more viable in a TOC setting. He or she can do other things besides go make copies. NCOs can be a vital part of the planning process.”

No matter the medium or location, the course work is exactly the same.

“It’s 159 academic hours regardless if you physically attend here at Fort Bliss [or the other locations], or if you are attending via VTT,” Beaver said. “We have six testable blocks of instruction. They will cover topics that include the military decision-making process, graphics and overlays, plans, orders, and attachments.”

 

Getting enrolled in the course

To enroll in BSNCOC, NCOs must go through their unit’s schools NCO or Army Training Requirements and Resources System manager. Each resident course at Fort Bliss has 64 slots available through ATRRS, though Beaver said that can be increased to 80 slots. Fort Bliss typically conducts five residential courses each year.

A record, passing Army Physical Fitness Test from the student’s unit is required, and each student enrolled will be screened for height-and-weight requirements when the class starts. NCOs attending through VTT will be screened by assistant instructors or at that post’s NCO academy.

Beaver said the VTT courses are set up two to three years in advance of the course start date.

“The post asks for so many slots, and it goes through ATRRS. If they get the slots they ask for, then they’re responsible for filling the slots and making sure they meet all the requirements that have to be met,” Beaver said. “There are a bunch of timelines that have to be met through the VTT course manager. Most of the installations we do it with have done it in the past on a regular basis, so they know everything that needs to happen.”

 

The course curriculum

BSNCOC started in 1988 for reserve-component Soldiers, but soon after, USASMA completed a program of instruction that opened the course to all NCOs. Since then, the course has changed many times and will soon see more changes, said Master Sgt. Philip Eville, the BSNCOC course manager at USASMA.

Sgt. 1st Class Kevin Hendrickson, a VTT instructor for the Battle Staff NCO Course at USASMA, prepares for an on-camera class session Nov. 7, 2012. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Jason Stadel)
Sgt. 1st Class Kevin Hendrickson, a VTT instructor for the Battle Staff NCO Course at USASMA, prepares for an on-camera class session Nov. 7, 2012. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Jason Stadel)

“It has dramatically changed,” he said. “I think from when I went back in 2006, it has been three course iterations. Ironically a lot of the lessons are the same. We still teach a lot of the same material, but they’ve been updated. When I went back in 2006, the focus of the Army was a lot different. It’s still a lot of the same subject areas, I would say. But how it’s taught and the emphasis has changed a little bit.”

One of the bigger changes recently was moving from two phases to a single phase. There used to be an online distance learning component prior to the start of the resident and VTT courses. However, the distance learning phase has since been written out of the program’s curriculum.

As the course manager, Eville develops the BSNCOC curriculum. He said curriculum changes are designed and implemented a few different ways

“Doctrine drives a lot of what we do. So when a doctrinal update comes out, we have to reassess the lessons and then figure out how the doctrine changes the lesson,” he said. “Some of it is based on feedback from the field, former students and people who have experience in there. When we do get feedback from a student who makes a good recommendation, we’ll say ‘That’s a good idea. How can we implement it in the course?’ We take it very seriously.”

Eville said the curriculum is designed for NCOs to be part of a unit’s military decision-making process and give them the best information available to make those decisions. Students are given instruction based on current operations as well as the basic principles of war that remained unchanged.

“We train NCOs how to track a battle, how to manage a battle, how to fight a war,” Eville said. “A lot of students say, ‘Why are we still teaching basic combat operations? We’ve been fighting these stability operations for the last 10 years. This is what the Army is.’ Well, you still have to understand basic combat operations. So we try to balance it. We focus a lot on stability operations, but still have to teach the basic fundamentals of combat and how you track a battle. Because someday, we may have a full war again, and we need NCOs who know how to track battles as well as the stability operations.”

 

VTT vs. resident course

Although the resident and VTTs courses teach the same curriculum, each format has advantages.

Obviously the VTT course costs units less to send NCOs to the course, said Master Sgt. Terrance Foster, the BSNCOC VTT course manager at USASMA.

From USASMA, Master Sgt. David Foulkes teaches BSNCOC students via video teletraining in November 2012. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Jason Stadel)
From USASMA, Master Sgt. David Foulkes teaches BSNCOC students via video teletraining in November 2012. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Jason Stadel)

“It’s a money-saver for the units,” he said. “They don’t have to pay [for temporary duty]; the units just have to let their people go to a location on their post to get the same training. It doesn’t matter if we teach 80 students or 16 [via VTT], the cost is the same.”

Each VTT instructor can teach up to five locations at time. For example, one of the 10 VTT instructors at Fort Bliss could be teaching the same course at the same time to students at Fort Drum, N.Y.; Fort Bragg, N.C.; Fort Hood; Texas, Fort Carson, Colo., and Fort Stewart, Ga.

Though the VTT instructors are available to answer student questions, the resident course students get more hands-on training from the classroom instructor. Battle rooms are available to the students during their off time and weekends for study, and in the classroom environment, there are on-the-spot class discussions with the instructors. Sometimes, during a VTT session, an instructor might be working with a different location, which might take more time for questions to get answered.

 

Assets to the TOC

In a TOC, most sections are run by an officer in charge and an NCO in charge who work together to make decisions relevant to their section. Master Sgt. William Coleman, the Fort Bliss BSNCOC resident manager, said an NCO who is a BSNCOC graduate will only make that working relationship better.

“We are the officer’s counterpart,” Coleman said. “Take a sergeant first class, for instance, who just finished platoon sergeant time and comes up to a battalion TOC or brigade or division TOC. His counterpart is that captain who came out of company command. That NCO needs to be equivalent to the officer as far as knowledge base and [ability to] process orders.”

Because most career Army NCOs will be on a staff at some point in their career, earning the 2S skill identifier will allow them to be assets to their commands, said Sgt. 1st Class Wesley Taylor, a Fort Bliss battle room instructor.

“This is one of those things that will teach you ‘what right looks like,’” he said. “I know from my experience on a battalion staff, we kind of flew by the seat our pants a lot. I went to the battle staff course after I was on battalion staff, but this would have been a good tool for me [beforehand].”

Beaver said the BSNCOC can offer NCOs the opportunity to continue their formal professional development after they complete NCO Education System courses. After an NCO completes the Senior Leader Course, there isn’t an opportunity for military education until being accepted to the Sergeants Major Course at USASMA. Though BSNCOC isn’t part of NCOES, Beaver said the course will assist an NCO’s career and help the NCO’s unit during a deployment.

“I would challenge all the NCOs out in the force: If they have the opportunity to take this course, do so,” Beaver said. “I think it’s a great asset for themselves and the Army as a whole.” ♦