The U.S. Army Video Teletraining Program for the Battle Staff Noncommissioned Officer Course at the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy at Fort Bliss, Texas, has long since established its reputation as a cost-effective program.
VTT eliminates the need for students’ temporary duty assignments and allows one instructor to teach many Soldiers at remote locations. Its savings benefits just grew as the nonresident training program recently eliminated a third-party contracting agency, which connected all sites, in favor of a more direct connection that the Battle Staff Noncommissioned Officer Course can control.
The result is a new clarity in photo transmission for students, as well as a staff of instructors excited to deliver the next generation of VTT with enhanced equipment, said Master Sgt. Andrea Thomas, Video Teleconference manager and senior instructor, BSNCOC.
“We are the controlling tower, if you will,” Thomas said. “It will be easier, and it saves the Army money. This equipment is phenomenal. Our old equipment, you kind of had to patch it up and keep it going. We were well overdue.”
The new equipment will ease operations and help get instructors back to the fast-paced business of training the future leaders of the Army.
“I love it; it’s back-to-back-to-back classes,” Thomas said. “It’s a phenomenal course, and you get to train NCOs. What is better than that?”
“It’s been a good experience being an instructor and sharing the knowledge and my experience with the fellow noncommissioned officer out there in the field,” said Sgt. 1st Class Khambao Mounlasy, VTT instructor. “It’s fun. I learn new things every day from the students as well.”
Because they are transmitting remotely, VTT instructors have experienced their fair share of technical difficulties.
“We have to have a back-up plan because Murphy’s Law has littered our course with everything you could think of,” Thomas said. “In the wintertime, our East Coast folks at posts such as Fort Drum, New York, and Fort Bragg, North Carolina, have bad weather and a lot of connectivity issues. We have seen it all. We have been quite talented in working around those issues, and we have accomplished the mission every time — graduating as many NCOs as possible. That is the goal, and that is what we are here for.”
Thomas said the support of USASMA’s leadership helped the success of the Battle Staff Noncommissioned Officer Course.
“I am thankful that we have the leadership that we have [at USASMA] because they are very supportive,” she said. “And the team we work with — we know there is a chain of command to follow, but we all treat each other as peers and that’s what works.”
Thomas said the experience she has gained as part of BSNCOC will serve her well as she transitions out of the Army. “The leadership, networking and being able to connect to people and seeing what works in the organization [has benefited me],” Thomas said. “I was able to get all of those tools working here in the Battle Staff.”
Effective immediately, commanders may authorize Soldiers to roll up the sleeves on Army combat uniforms, according to a memorandum signed June 28 by Lt. Gen. James C. McConville, the G-1 deputy chief of staff.
The new policy pertains to the universal camouflage pattern, operational camouflage pattern and Operation Enduring Freedom camouflage pattern ACUs.
“We’re going sleeves up, camo out,” Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel Dailey said.
The sleeves will be rolled above the elbow, right-side out with the camouflage pattern showing. They should be rolled no more than 3 inches above the elbow, according to the memo, and this method will be used primarily in-garrison.
In addition, during field training exercises or operations, upon approval of the commander, sleeves may be opened and cuffed inward above the wrist on the forearm.
“It’s often referred to as a Delta roll or SF roll,” Dailey said.
This second method of staying cool is specifically for Soldiers in a field or deployed environment, he emphasized.
Soldiers have to remember, though, that these authorizations are only good when not precluded by safety, Dailey said. “Like when you’re in a combat vehicle, the sleeves have to go down.”
There will be no time restrictions on the new policy, Dailey said.
“For instance, company commanders in Hawaii can make the decision to go sleeves up any time of year,” he said.
The ultimate decision to roll sleeves any time rests with unit commanders, he said, but added that the Army-wide policy has changed due to input from Soldiers.
“The overwhelming support from Soldiers around the Army was a big factor in coming to this decision,” he said.
Soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas, were given permission earlier this month to begin rolling up their sleeves for a 10-day period, when visited by Dailey and Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Mark A. Milley.
At the time that permission was given mid-month, the sleeve-rolling was considered an experiment for a possible Army-wide policy, according to a G-1 spokesman.
That spokesman, Lt. Col. Jerry Pionk, said, “Feedback from Soldiers resulted in us wanting to do a trial over the next 10 days to see the feasibility of updating AR 670-1 and incorporating in the future for the force to give commanders flexibility in wear based upon their unit’s mission.”
Soldier feedback on the issue has been populating social media sites for the past two weeks. Army Facebook postings generated considerable interest. Twitter and other social media sites generated similar outpourings.
A June 21 post on the Army Facebook page said: “Let your voice be heard!! If you’re a #USArmy Soldier, the #15th SMA wants to know what you want: Camo in or Camo out?”
One commented: “Go back to the good ole days! It was an art to roll those sleeves!”
She was referring to 2006, before the Battle Dress Uniform was phased out. At the time the camouflage pattern remained on the outside.
Most, but not all of the sentiment appeared to be “camo out.” Some didn’t agree at all with rolling them up, but that was a small minority.
Sgt. Maj. Richard L. Tucker, director of the Battle Staff Noncommissioned Officer Course at the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy, credits many military leaders for an amiable leadership style he honed during his decades-long Army career. But it was a former platoon sergeant at then-Fort Lewis, Washington, who showed him what taking care of Soldiers was really about.
“Regard your Soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys; look on them as your own beloved sons, and they will stand by you even unto death.”
That’s what this former platoon sergeant did, Tucker said. He embodied the ancient philosophy of Chinese military strategist and philosopher Sun Tzu, which greatly influenced Tucker. It was the way each Soldier was welcomed into the fold and the little things Tucker saw his former platoon sergeant do that went a long way with Soldiers.
This philosophy would set the tone for Tucker’s leadership, whether as a platoon sergeant, first sergeant or later as director of USASMA’s Battle Staff NCO Course at Fort Bliss, Texas.
“I have been fortunate in my entire career as a leader,” Tucker said. “When I was a squad leader, I had great team leaders. As a platoon sergeant, I was really lucky. Down to the lowest private, they were outstanding platoons. The squad leaders, the team leaders, they made my life easy.”
Changing the formula
When Tucker first came to the Battle Staff Noncommissioned Officer Course after graduating Class 59 at the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy, he noticed the curriculum had not evolved along with the Army and suggested a revamp of lessons was in order.
“We developed a couple new classes,” Tucker said. “Some of the existing classes were updated, and some things were added to make the classes more relevant.
“We teach Army doctrine as a whole,” he said. “What you get is classroom discussion and information-sharing. All students bring a unique plate to the table. One of the biggest things these NCOs learn when they come to our course is where to find the information if they don’t know the answer. Research is one of the biggest things.”
The military decision-making process became the culminating block of instruction within the course. Though some students may see it as overwhelming, Tucker said the military decision-making process is essential for NCOs.
“The role of the NCO has transformed over the past 15 years of war,” Tucker said. “Sergeants major are part of the planning process when the unit is planning the mission. Seventeen, 18 years ago that wasn’t necessarily so.”
Master Sgt. Andrea Thomas, BSNCOC Video Teletraining manager, could not agree more with Tucker.
“A lot of times I tell my students we are more than just NCOs who make sure chow is there, guard duty is happening or the sleep tents are up,” Thomas said. “We can be part of that thinking and brainstorming process to help make those military decisions. Trying to close that knowledge gap is important, because we are a valuable asset to the Army.”
VTT is also a large part of BSNCOC because it allows instructors to reach NCOs in distant locations, whether students are sitting in a classroom at Fort Dix, New Jersey, or Italy. The technology behind VTT allows for maximum interaction between the instructors and students, even though they may be separated by an ocean.
A united front
Tucker said none of the improvements would have been possible without contributions from the many NCOs and civilians who worked as the course writers, developers and manager. They helped get the Battle Staff Course to what it is today – 159 academic hours over the course of four weeks. The NCOs on staff, whether deputy director or instructors, are instrumental to its success.
“I pull them in 10 different directions, but they are very flexible, very professional,” Tucker said. “I have been very fortunate.
“All of my instructors are sergeants first class and master sergeants,” he said. “They are senior NCOs. … Give them the task, and let them figure it out.”
Battle Staff instructors are equally as grateful to have Tucker at the helm.
“We have such camaraderie here in the Battle Staff,” Thomas said. “He trusts us, and that just speaks volumes.
“One team, one fight, and we truly believe that here,” Thomas said. “We want everybody to feel like they are a member of the team and that they can contribute and make this course a success. Tucker has done that. He has turned this course around. And the people, even though we are from all walks of life, we are still brothers and sisters in arms and that’s how we live every day when we come here.”
The BSNCOC touches more than 1,500 students a year, and Tucker sees to it that every resident course is filled to capacity.
“Usually what happens is that at a certain point during registration the staff will start looking to see how many students we have,” Tucker said. “I will start calling every brigade sergeant major. I call the division sergeant major. I start calling every sergeant major I can think of [to fill classes].”
BSNCOC is essential to every NCO’s career, Tucker said. The students come from all walks of Army life, including the aviation, legal and medical branches, as well as military police and cooks.
“I believe it allows an NCO to see another side of the Army,” Tucker said. “It allows you to see things on a bigger scale and look at things in a new light. When they get back to their units, they will start to ask, ‘What were they thinking when they planned this?’”
Students such as Staff Sgt. Craige A. Sears, a supply sergeant, said he couldn’t wait to immerse himself in BSNCOC after trying to get into the course for the past two years.
“I think it’s important to understand the overall staff aspect and what goes into an actual battle staff,” Sears said. “A lot of times you kind of get into a situation where you have the command team, you have leadership positions — you’re a sergeant, commander, platoon sergeant — but you don’t see the behind-the-scenes of what the staff does. Now you get to understand what actually drives the unit, where are all the tasks coming from, the observation post orders. I think that’s huge.
“What I’m learning here is actually going to be an addition to what I have already learned, so it’s just going to help mold me, to make me a better NCO leader,” Sears said.
In September, Tucker will wrap up a nearly 30-year career with the Army. He often tells the NCOs at BSNCOC that he’s glad he is able to end his career on an assignment with a group of quality NCOs like them.
“I look forward to coming to work every day because of the crew in Battle Staff,” Tucker said. “We have made an impact. We have made changes that will continue to make an impact. And at the same time, to have been able to work with a group of professionals like them, you really can’t ask for any more than that.”
After a week of intense international competition, the 2016 Department of Defense Warrior Games drew to a close Tuesday at West Point, New York, with Team Army winning the wheelchair basketball championship, followed by a medal ceremony, a concert and fireworks.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley reminded the audience that the competitors — representing the Army, Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard, Marines, U.S. Special Operations Command and the United Kingdom armed forces — were the best of the best.
“This is a tough competition,” he said. “A lot of people don’t realize what this competition means. First of all, you had to walk the hallowed grounds of the battlefield or you had to get injured or sick in the service of your nation. That alone makes you the best of the best.”
Milley noted that the Warrior Games competitors had earned their places at the games by competing against a field of 2,000 to 3,000 other athletes at regional and service-level trials in track and field, swimming, shooting, archery, sitting volleyball, cycling and wheelchair basketball.
“They had to meet Paralympic standards,” Milley said. “The coaches, the staff, the referees were all professionals and former Paralympians. The standards were high. This is a tough competition.
“There’s not an athlete on this field who got there by themselves,” he said. “They got there because of their families, their caregivers, their medical professionals, their coaches, their friends and countless others. You’re a tremendously inspiring group of people. Thank you so much for your spirit of competition and your resiliency.”
From June 15 to 21, wounded, ill and injured athletes competed for gold, silver and bronze medals, pushing through injuries, getting engaged and reconnecting with friends. For some, this was their last Defense Department Warrior Games, and their next competition will be the Invictus Games. For others, the road to the Paralympics is just beginning.
It was the last Warrior Games for medically retired Army Sgt. Monica “Mo” Southall, but she ended with a bang — she beat her personal record in the discus to win gold, took home gold in the shot put and was part of the bronze-winning Army sitting volleyball team.
“I knew it was going to be pretty emotional, and it was, when I threw the discus for the last time [and] when I threw shot put for the last time,” she said. “It’s kind of a sad ending, but not really, because I know what I’ve accomplished here. I’m thankful, and I plan on finding a way to give back to others.”
Southall’s family was there to support her throughout her final day of competition. “It’s been a very emotional day, said her aunt, Mary Ward, who spent her 60th birthday cheering on her niece. “I’ve had my eye on her and didn’t know how she was going to be affected this last day. I couldn’t be more proud of her.”
Southall’s wife, Tempestt, said it was emotional for her, because she knows how much the Warrior Games mean to Monica.
“I know how much it means to her to come out and compete and how emotional it was going to be for her to get out there and give it her all and just do extraordinary like she did,” she said. “She loves to be with her teammates. I’m just very proud that she has had the opportunity to do it for as long as she did, and she still has the support from us.”
Southall has earned several medals at the DoD Warrior Games, Invictus Games and Valor Games throughout the years. She said she hopes to compete in the Invictus Games again, mainly for powerlifting.
“I made a mental mistake that’s going to haunt me, so I have to have a chance to redeem myself, so I’d like to do one more just for powerlifting,” she said with a smile. “I’d like to do other events, but that’s the main event I’m chasing.”
The final Warrior Games competition of the week was wheelchair basketball, and Army retained its title, dominating Team Marine Corps 62-23 for the gold.
Though the athletes felt a sense of accomplishment with the medals, most of them said their biggest takeaway from the week was the sense of camaraderie and friendship. This year, the Warrior Games added Heart of the Team awards. These were awarded to one member on each team who best exemplified the camaraderie of the sport. The teams chose whom received the awards and surprised each recipient.
The recipients were medically retired Army Sgt. Ryan Major, Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Dakota Boyer, medically retired Navy Airman Austin Chance Field, medically retired Air Force Capt. Chris Cochrane, SOCOM Navy Lt. Ramesh Haytasingh and Royal Marine Justin Montague.
Boyer said he was surprised to receive the award.
“It was the best feeling I’ve felt in a long time,” he said. “I was cheering my teammates on to win and to do good things. I was never not going to cheer for them. This event was one of the greatest feelings in the world. You have a full team behind you and support. You’re never going to find the love like this anywhere else and people who know what you’re going through.”
Major told Fox News that adaptive sports helped save him after an explosion took both his legs.
“It was really dark for me, going from being completely independent, a true athlete, to losing my legs,” he said. “Then I started getting into sports, and it was like I could see the light — very dim, but as I pushed forward, it got brighter. And eventually, I was able to touch the light.”
Major won six medals, including two golds, in track and field events and also medaled in a cycling event and a swimming event.
The Warrior Games began last week when Army Capt. Kelly Elmlinger, with help from comedian Jon Stewart, lit the official torch during the event’s opening ceremonies.
“Being selected to light the torch is as much an honor and privilege as competing for Team Army,” Elmlinger said. “Finishing my Warrior Games career as Team Army captain and lighting the torch at the opening ceremony is by far the most amazing experience. It’s humbling to see the support from the Warrior Transition Command throughout my time on Team Army, and I graciously thank them for allowing me to participate as torch bearer in this event.”
About 250 wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans competed in shooting, archery, cycling, track and field, swimming, sitting volleyball and wheelchair basketball at the academy.
Stewart said during the opening ceremony that he’s uplifted by the tenacity displayed by the wounded, ill and injured athletes.
Considering the Orlando tragedy, he said, “This has been a difficult week for what I like to call ‘Team Civilization.’ The horrors we witnessed can make you feel as though you’ve lost faith in our ability to persevere through those times.
“When I say I’m in need of your support, there’s almost nothing in this world that gives me more support than witnessing the tenacity, the resilience and the perseverance of our wounded warriors in their endeavors,” he said. “They’re the ones that make me feel like we’re going to be OK.”
Stewart, who attended events throughout the competition, said he brought his 11-year- old son, Nate, so he could meet the wounded warriors.
“People ask me, ‘How do you talk to your kids about violence that occurs in this world?’” he said. “And I realized it’s time to stop telling him about the rare individuals who do harm and tell him more about the people whose names we don’t know and whose resilience and tenacity we can witness. That’s why I’m here today. I’m here to show him that the depth and strength of those whose names you may never know is the depth and strength of this country, and is the depth and strength that will allow us to overcome.”
Stewart, who has accompanied several USO tours overseas in combat zones, also has visited many times with wounded warriors at military hospitals.
“I’ve seen what these individuals have to go through. They have faced the worst that humanity has to throw at them, and they decided not to allow themselves to be defined by that act but to be defined by their actions following that act, their actions of getting up off that floor. I’ve seen the blood, sweat and tears they’ve gone through to get here ─ and the profanity. If you go to the physical therapy room at Walter Reed, there’s a lot of profanity,” he said with a smile. “They do it with pride, and when they fall, their colleagues and their loved ones pick them up and don’t let them give up, so I applaud the families and the caregivers here today.”
More than 40 current and former members of the Army competed in this year’s Warrior Games, and more than half of them are noncommissioned officers.
Staff Sgt. Eric Pardo, of San Antonio, Texas, experienced multiple injuries while serving as a combat medic, including to his ankle and left knee, a bulging disc, a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress.
“I was told by my orthopedic surgeon, who was also a triathlete, that I could no longer run or upright cycle again in 2012,” Pardo said. “He told me to try swimming and recumbent cycling. I kind of scoffed at that because, to me, that wasn’t really physically demanding. I almost took it as an insult. He took away everything I did for physical fitness. I couldn’t just pick up a pair of sneakers and just run anymore or take my cycling shoes and my bike and just go riding.”
But after a couple of weeks, “I decided to give this cycling and swimming thing a shot,” he said.
Pardo’s main events during this year’s Warrior Games were archery, cycling, swimming and sitting volleyball. He also participated in track and field events.
In 2014, Pardo participated in the Army Trials held at West Point and won the gold medal for recumbent cycling with a 2-minute lead.
“Cycling helped me heal,” Pardo said. “Before that, I was focused on what I couldn’t do.
After I started cycling, I felt like I was back. It helps me get rid of the agitation; it helps me push through a lot of the physical barriers. I don’t feel like I’m broken anymore. I’m not a defective piece of equipment. Look at what I have done.
“When I’m riding and swimming, you can’t text or call me,” he said. “Whatever it is, it can wait till later; I’m in my zone.”
U.S. Army Reservist Staff Sgt. Ashley Anderson, who recently competed in British Prince Harry’s Invictus Games, also competed in the Warrior Games.
Anderson suffers from a herniated disc in her lower back and heart problems, “along with behavioral health issues,” she said.
Anderson suffered the injuries during a second deployment in Guantanamo Bay and was introduced to adaptive sports while recovering at Fort Riley, Kansas. She also competed in the 2015 Warrior Games.
This year, she participated won three medals in swimming events and another for her role on the sitting volleyball team.
But these Games aren’t just about friendly competition among injured active and veteran service members from the branches, Anderson told Channel 12-KEYC in Mankato, Minnesota, near where she is from. It provides a community.
“It’s hard, you know, outside of here to talk about our injuries with other people,” she said. “It’s easier to talk, to get help, see how other deal with their recovery and get advice from them.”
Anderson told KYEC, “I want to achieve a personal best but mostly, the important thing is going out here, having fun and meeting everybody else from the branches and just having a great experience.”
When Milley declared the games closed, he handed the Warrior Games torch off to Navy Vice Adm. Dixon R. Smith, commander of Navy Installations Command, to symbolize the start of the run-up for the next games, which the Navy will host in Chicago next June.
A C-17 Globemaster III from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, conducted a flyover. Actor Gary Sinise performed a concert with his Lt. Dan Band for the athletes and their families, and then a fireworks display closed out the evening.
But this is just one major step in the road to recovery for wounded, ill and injured service members.
U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Allan Armstrong, of Fort Hood, Texas, competed in archery and credited the Warrior Transition Battalions for getting him into archery.
“Adaptive sports gave me the confidence to recover,” Armstrong said. “It takes time to go through this process.”
Retired Army Staff Sgt. Gregory Quarles, from Ringgold, Georgia, also competed in archery events.
“I picked shooting archery at adaptive sports at the WTB,” Quarles said. “If there’s someone out there that needs it, adaptive sports is a lifesaver. Get out there and do what you got to do. You’re not alone.”
Shannon Collins of Defense Department News contributed to this article.
Fort Hood Soldiers have been given a 10-day reprieve from the summer swelter — they were given permission to roll up their sleeves until Sunday, Jan. 26, by Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Mark A. Milley and Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey.
It’s only a trial, but the results at Fort Hood could later affect the rest of the Army, allowing Soldiers everywhere to roll up their sleeves this summer.
Lt. Col. Jerry Pionk, a spokesman with Army G-1, the agency responsible for developing the uniform policy for the Army that is spelled out in Army Regulation 670-1, the Army will review feedback from what happens at Fort Hood, and will look at the practicality of the sleeve-rolling experiment there before making any regulatory changes to current uniform policy.
“Feedback from Soldiers resulted in us wanting to do a trial over the next 10 days to see the feasibility of updating AR 670-1 and incorporating in the future for the force to give commanders flexibility in wear based upon their unit’s mission,” Pionk said.
If sleeve-rolling rolls out across the Army, it will most likely include a stipulation that commanders will make the ultimate determination about when and where it’s permissible. With the Battle Dress Uniform, for instance, Soldiers were not allowed to roll their sleeves in field conditions during training exercises.
Additionally, if sleeve-rolling is approved for Soldiers across the Army, AR 670-1 will spell out the details of exactly how the sleeve should be rolled. Implementation of any changes must eventually be approved by the Army’s uniform board after reviewing input from trials like what is happening now at Fort Hood.
Pionk told the Army Times that, “Future guidance, if any, would be disseminated through routine command networks and via the [website] with augmentation through Army social media and command information networks.”
Milley approved the trial after a re-enlistment ceremony June 16 at Fort Hood that was attended by both Milley and Dailey. After the ceremony, a Soldier — Spc. Cortne K. Mitchell, A Company, 15th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division — pointed out how hot it was at Fort Hood, and asked Milley if he and his fellow Soldiers might roll up their sleeves to stay cool.
The Army’s chief of staff said sure, and invited Mitchell and all Soldiers at Fort Hood to do the same — for the next 10 days.
The CSA specified, however, that the sleeves be rolled differently than how they were rolled with the BDUs. Back in the days before the BDU was phased out, in 2005, sleeves were rolled in a way that ensured the camouflage pattern remained on the outside. With the Army Combat Uniform and Operational Camouflage Pattern uniform, and for the 10-day trial at Fort Hood, Milley said sleeves should be rolled the way the Marine Corps rolls its sleeves: with the inside facing out.
For now, this exemption to AR 670-1 policy has several restrictions: it applies only to Soldiers at Fort Hood, it’s only for the OCP or ACU, it’s only for in-garrison, it’s only with commander approval, and it’s only for 10 days.
So for 10 days, Soldiers at Fort Hood can cool off by rolling up their sleeves. Soldiers elsewhere can think cool by talking with senior NCOs who were around in the days, more than a decade ago, when sleeve-rolling was commonplace across the force.
“Feedback will be submitted through the NCO support chain to the sergeant major of the Army,” Pionk told the Army Times.
Dailey told the Army Times that Milley will be receive the findings and make the final decision, and Milley said that he’s receptive to direct Soldier feedback, if anyone wants to share their thoughts.
“I am always interested in hearing from Soldiers,” Milley said in a written statement to the Army Times. “I frequently receive email directly from Soldiers and I answer them directly back. My email is in the global address book that Soldiers have access to.”
No word on exactly when that decision will be made. But Dailey told the Army Times that he thought it would be a fairly quick process if feedback is positive: “There is no major change in uniform, no procurement. This is a quick policy change.”
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