When Soldiers see sergeants major walking to formations across the Army, many feel a sense of pride and respect for the position a select number of career Soldiers are entrusted with.
Many times, Soldiers go as far as fixing the pockets on their trousers when they see a sergeant major within their line of sight to ensure they have no uniform infractions.
Respect for the position did not happen overnight. The rank of sergeant major was established in 1958 and has been worn by the likes of the retired Sgt. Maj. of the Army William O. Wooldridge, and Command Sgt. Maj. Cynthia Pritchett, the first female to be nominated to compete for sergeant major of the Army (twice).
No matter the pedigree, their journey had to start somewhere.
Enter the Sergeants Major Course in the United States Army Sergeants Major Academy at Fort Bliss, Texas. The academy was established in July 1972 and is hosting its 67th iteration of resident NCOs.
Class 67 features master sergeants, sergeants major from the Army Reserve and National Guard components, and equivalent ranks from various branches of the U.S. Armed Force and 39 international allied-partner nations.
The 10-month-long course covers a range of topics including ethics, oral and written communications, counterinsurgency operations, the legal process, strategic concepts, and the joint operation planning process.
Like other NCO Professional Development Schools, no one — regardless of rank or position — is accepted into the academy without passing the Army Physical Fitness Test, which on Aug. 25 brought out the best in the classmates who displayed remarkable camaraderie after being together for fewer than three weeks.
“We are building relationships that [will] help us move forward with this class for the next 10 months,” said Master Sgt. Latevia Williams-Green, a student at the course.
“Camaraderie is important … we’re all in this journey together,” said the Estill, South Carolina, native. “We started together and our goal is to actually finish together.”
The contagious feeling of camaraderie was not limited to the students as it spilled over to the hardened veterans of the academy’s cadre.
“It makes me feel really good to see the camaraderie,” said Sgt. Maj. Kerry Guthrie, the chair of the Department of Command Leadership of the Sergeants Major Course.
“It helps the students very much because they are from all different [military occupational specialties],” Guthrie said. “It allows them over the time of the course to establish relationships with each other and network.”
The challenging graduate-level course may not always be so light-hearted. The students are required to pass 19 exams and eight written assignments.
Although it is not a requirement, students who have not obtained a degree will have the opportunity to do so while at the academy.
“It’s all about education,” Williams-Green said. “Every chance you to try to learn or take some classes — get there! The opportunity’s there for us to get degrees and attend different [NCOPDSs]. We just have to take advantage of it.”
The class is scheduled to graduate next June after USASMA fulfills its mission: to provide professional military education that develops enlisted leaders to meet the challenges of an increasingly complex world.
By STAFF SGT. SHARILYN WELLS
and STAFF SGT. FELIX R. FIMBRES
U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command
The first Operation Toy Drop, organized in 1998 by Sgt. 1st Class Randy Oler, collected 550 toys for local children in need. This year, more than 4,300 paratroopers participated and donated more than 6,000 toys. The operation, run by the U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (Airborne,) has become the largest joint airborne operation in the Army.
Contrary to what the name implies, paratroopers do not actually jump with the toys. Soldiers donate new, unwrapped toys for children in need, then are entered into a lottery. Those chosen are awarded the opportunity to earn foreign jump wings from allied jump masters who have traveled to Fort Bragg from around the world.
Operation Toy Drop combines the efforts of Army, Air Force and civilian service organizations in a truly unique event. Since its first year, the operation has expanded to include aircraft support from Pope Air Force Base’s 43rd Airlift Wing and welcomed the participation of Soldiers from Fort Bragg’s XVIII Airborne Corps, 82nd Airborne Division and Special Operations Command.
“It’s a win-win situation,” said Harris Luther, Prime Knight manager for Pope Field at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. “You got the Army guys who don’t get to get foreign jump wings very often, jump with foreign jumpmasters and oh, by the way, help kids by donating a toy. Then the aircrews, when they come in, get (the opportunity) to land in the dirt and fly certain routes, all the while getting guys out the door — which is all training. There’s no losing process here at all, none.”
Who was Sgt. 1st Class Randy Oler?
Oler, a Tennessee native, joined the Army in 1979 as an infantryman. He spent time in Ranger and Special Forces battalions throughout his career, and deployed in support of operations Desert Storm, Provide Comfort and Joint Endeavor. In 1995, he joined U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (Airborne) to become a civil affairs specialist.
“He loved to drink his Mountain Dew and had to have his cigarette with it. You had to get to know him, and when you got to know him — once you learned to know him — you loved him,” said Luther, who met Oler while coaching youth sports. “(He was) just a true American and a very caring person. He truly cared about people. You just can’t say enough good things about him.”
Oler’s close friends describe him as a man’s man, a true American; a gentle giant who loved kids. When he approached four of his close friends with a crazy idea that involved an airborne operation, foreign jumpmasters, toys, children, and lots of fun, they all jumped on board.
The first toy drop in 1998 was small – only a few hundred jumpers exited the aircraft and a matching amount of toys were collected. But Oler had planted the seed, and over the years, his operation grew.
“I thought that the idea, the concept that he (Oler) came up with, was an awesome idea,” said Willie Wellbrook, loadmaster and retired Air Force master sergeant. “Not only for the fact that the jumpers get something out of it but also the big thing was the kids – it’s all about the kids. And I was more than happy to jump on that bandwagon.”
By April of 2004, Oler had been promoted to Sgt. 1st Class and was finishing up an assignment at the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School. With relocation orders in hand, Oler warned his friends that he might not be there to fulfill his duties for the operation, but he would do as much as he could.
That same month, he suffered a heart attack while performing jumpmaster duties aboard a C-130 aircraft. At 43 years old, Oler was pronounced dead at Womack Army Medical Center at Fort Bragg. After Oler’s death, the operation was dedicated to him in his memory.
“Losing Randy was real hard, because I was here the night Randy passed away on the aircraft,” explained Wellbrook. “I got the call that we had an in-flight emergency. I just didn’t realize at the time who it was – until the next day. Losing Randy was tough, because Randy was the heart and soul of this operation.”
Close friends couldn’t see continuing Operation Toy Drop without Oler; that year’s event was in jeopardy. Oler had been able to do all the coordinating in his head and didn’t write anything down. But by August, Oler’s friends decided he would have wanted them to continue to help children around the community.
“The next couple of years were pretty rough,” said Scott Murray, Oler’s friend and a former Soldier in the XVIII Airborne Corps. “We just didn’t have the heart.”
“I don’t think you’ll ever meet another person like Randy,” Wellbrook said. “Randy left a legacy. … It’s blown into a huge operation, and I think Toy Drop will be here as long as kids are in need.”
Every year, foreign soldiers train with U.S. Army Alaska at the SFC Christopher R. Brevard NCO Academy. However, this year, one graduate is the first of her kind.
Sgt. Muncunchimeg Nyamaajav became the first female Mongolian soldier to attend the academy.
“I am so thankful to the U.S. and Mongolian armies for allowing me to come here,” said Nyamaajav, who is the only Mongolian soldier to attend the course since 2007.
Nyamaajav and five other Soldiers recently graduated from the Basic Leader Course. As part of the classes she attended, Nyamaajav participated in various field exercises that sharpened her leadership skills and further developed her professional ethics.
The freezing weather and harsh terrain at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson made Nyamaajav feel right at home. She said she hopes more soldiers from her country – female soldiers in particular – will follow her example and have the opportunity to attend.
“My hope is that more female soldiers come here and learn,” she said. “Though the terrain is the same here in Alaska, all of our experiences are different, and discussing those differences and learning from them makes us better.”
Nyamaajav, born in Bayankhongor City of the Bayankhongor province in Mongolia, joined the military 10 years ago at the age of 19. She said she has always desired to serve her country, and wants to see more female soldiers succeed.
Mongolian female soldiers face many challenges, as they form only 17 percent of the country’s armed forces. Nyamaajav said her experience training with U.S. Army Alaska helped build her confidence, something she knows her fellow female soldiers need.
“I want female soldiers to learn and to be strong,” she said. “I want them to hope and dream.”
While she loves being a leader and pushing her fellow soldiers to be great, Nyamaajav credits her own loved ones as her source of inspiration. “My family is a big source of support for me,” she said. “My 6-year-old son is in the first grade and is studying to read. Everything I do, I do because I want him to be proud of me.”
Nyamaajav said her trip has made her value even more the partnership her country shares with the United States. “This partnership with the U.S. Army is so important,” Nyamaajav said. “Because of it and the people I have met here, I am stronger and a better soldier, and I am so grateful.”
Cadets from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., and the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps recently got a first-hand look at NCO leadership at Fort Campbell, Ky. Noncommissisioned officers with 3rd Battalion, 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), mentored students participating in cadet troop leader training from July 17 to Aug. 7.
The students, assigned to the 3rd Battalion “Eagle Attack,” saw what it is like to serve as a platoon leader in an active aviation unit. During the assignment, the students gave briefings and assisted in planning day-to-day missions under the mentorship of the battalion’s senior NCOs.
The mentorship opened the lines of communication between the soon-to-be junior officers and the Soldiers they will be working hand-in-hand with once they receive their commissions. By working with NCOs, the cadets gain experience in seeking guidance from their enlisted counterparts and establishing relationships founded on trust.
“I have 24 years in the Army,” said Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Nichols, production control NCO in charge for D Company, 3rd Battalion, 101st CAB. “I have heard jokes about second lieutenants not having experience in the Army but having a lot of authority when they get to their unit. When good NCOs mentor the cadets, it gives us a chance to make sure that doesn’t happen nearly as much. It gives us the opportunity to make sure that when they commission, they can lean on and learn from the knowledge and leadership of their NCOs.”
For the cadets, establishing that trust provided a new perspective. By working in an active-duty unit with their NCO counterparts, the cadets learned some of the realities of working with the Soldiers they’ll be leading.
“You really can’t compare what we learned here to what we learned back at school,” said Cadet Olivia Lynch, a student at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, Daytona Beach, Fla. “In the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps at my school, we only learned about our duties as an officer. Here, we’re learning what it’s actually like working with the enlisted, what their day-to-day jobs are, what it’s like for them to live in the barracks. We learned what a platoon really needs out of a platoon leader. We learned that even something as small as going to a softball game can make a huge difference in morale.”
Though taking care of Soldiers is the realm of NCOs, command climate is often influenced by the officers in an organization. Mentoring the cadets is a great way for NCOs to hone their skills training Soldiers and set the cadets up for success, Nichols said.
“One of our basic functions as NCOs is to train Soldiers,” Nichols said. “Our job is to get privates and specialists mission-ready. Now, instead of training a private, you’re training a cadet. As my father used to say, ‘Get them young, start them young, train them young, and they’ll work forever that way.’ If you bring the cadets here to the active-duty Army and establish good habits of working with NCOs, only good things can come out of it. Pairing NCOs and cadets gives leadership opportunities to both sides. It gives junior NCOs the experience of reporting to a platoon leader, in a training sense. Those junior NCOs will become senior NCOs who will be reporting up the chain of command. It gives the cadets the opportunity to lead Soldiers, which will ultimately be their job. It shows both sides how an effective line of communication works both ways.”
Building avenues of communication is an important part of building any team. When it’s time to make things happen, other skills are needed. Time and resource management have to be included in the process.
“I think it’s absolutely necessary for the cadets to get the enlisted perspective as well as the officer mentorship now and as they progress through their careers,” said Sgt. 1st Class Robert Carter, D Company component repair supervisor. “It gives a new set of eyes and vision for fixing future problems. If it takes five Soldiers 30 minutes to move the aircraft, that’s 2.5 hours of manpower. The cadet needs to understand that maybe the time spent moving the aircraft can be better spent on other tasks. Instead of just giving direction, working smarter with your Soldiers would benefit the Army no matter what kind of unit you’re in.”
Leading Soldiers is a big responsibility. Having a taste of what they’ll be doing when they become platoon leaders will better prepare cadets for their responsibilities.
“What I see as a command sergeant major is that sometimes new officers don’t understand the responsibilities of being a platoon leader and the gravity that position possesses,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Mark Brock, senior enlisted advisor for the “Eagle Attack” Battalion. “I think it catches them by surprise. I think the NCOs at ROTC or West Point need to convey that, unlike privates, a newly commissioned officer is a leader from day one by virtue of the fact that he or she is a second lieutenant or a first lieutenant.”
Giving the cadets a bigger toolbox before they receive their commissions helps them build and maintain positive relationships with their NCOs.
Officers have a lot of responsibilities placed on them because they are officers, Brock said. Every officer has an NCO. It’s NCO business to keep officers informed of Soldier issues because NCOs have more experience dealing with them. If officers and NCOs establish that communication and work together as teammates, the organization benefits.
By BENNY ONTIVEROS
U.S. Army Warrior Transition Command
Army Sgt. 1st Class Katie Kuiper is using adaptive sports as a bridge for her transition to civilian life.
Kuiper, assigned to the Warrior Transition Battalion, Fort Sam Houston, Texas, suffered a head injury that proved to be challenging, but through the Army physical fitness and adaptive sports program, her goals are quickly being reached. She’ll be involved in the Army trials being held March 30 through April 3 at Fort Bliss, Texas, in preparation for the 2015 Warrior Games slated June 19-28 at Quantico Marine Corps Base, Virginia.
The trials are conducted by the U.S. Army Warrior Transition Command, based in Alexandria, Virginia. Kuiper is one of about 80 wounded, ill and injured Soldiers and veterans from across the country participating in events including shooting, swimming, archery, sitting volleyball, wheelchair basketball, track and field, and Kuiper’s favorite, cycling.
Kuiper is involved in two scheduled training events, but she participated in cycling practice March 24 to “relax my head injury,” she said.
“Cycling is relaxing to me,” Kuiper added, “and I can forget about everything else.”
Focusing Her Energy
Finding ways to recover from injuries can be difficult for wounded service members, but Kuiper focused her energy on cycling, which will prepare her for her other training events such as track and field. She quickly acclimated to cycling and safely stretched her muscles before taking a cycle ride on the approved tank trail.
The challenging part was learning new cycling techniques from the cycling coach. “The cycling lessons are new and insightful,” she said.
Cycling coach Jim Pensereyes, from San Diego, taught Kuiper and other wounded warriors to ride their cycles correctly through the turns on the practice trail.
Better With Each Practice Run
“It’s an honor and absolutely amazing to see these brave individuals cycle through the course and even better to see when they take my advice,” he said. “They just get better and better with each practice run.”
Kuiper and other wounded warriors adjusted to this new method despite the challenges it presented. By the end of the practice, they cycled with ease. Several cycling coaches were on hand to help them learn proper riding techniques.
“Being here is instrumental to my well-being,” Kuiper said, “and by interacting with other wounded warriors, it brings great joy to me and puts a huge smile to my face.”
The official magazine of noncommissioned officer professional development