The United States Army Sergeants Major Academy ceremoniously recognized the academic accomplishments of the 45 international students of Sergeants Major Course Class 66 June 16, by awarding them the International Military Student Badge. The Academy also inducted two former international military students into the International Military Student Hall of Fame.
Command Sgt. Maj. Dennis Defreese, commandant, thanked everyone for attending the ceremony and honoring the international students.
“This morning we are going to one, recognize two outstanding leaders from their countries. Two we are recognizing our Class 66 international students who have spent the last 12 months here alongside their U.S. counterparts,” he said. “Our international program has a lot of importance to us for a few reasons – it helps us form partnerships with countries from all over the world and it helps broaden our sergeants majors and our officers; it is as much for us as it is for the international students. We get as much as we give.”
Defreese said that the international military badging and hall of fame induction ceremony is one of his favorite events of the year as it is the academy’s way of recognizing our international partners.
Following Defreese’s remarks, the academy recognized the two inductees of the International Military Student Hall of Fame. Many of the international students who have attended the Sergeants Major Course have gone on to make significant contributions to the lineage of their own NCO corps and education systems, but only a few have assumed the position of their respective country’s or armed forces senior enlisted advisor, a position similar to that of the U.S. Army’s Sergeant Major of the Army. The Academy recognized three individuals who have done just that by inducting them into the International Military Student Hall of Fame. Malloy assisted each of the honorees to unveil their induction plaques.
The first honoree was Warrant Officer Class One Don Spinks, Sergeant Major of the Australian Army and a graduate of Class 51. After unveiling his Hall of Fame plaque with the assistance of Defreese, Spinks addressed the audience.
“It is an enormous honor for me to be here. For an international student to come and attend the academy it is an enormous privilege, one that is not lost on any of us that have walked that path,” he said. “There is hardly a day that not gone by where I haven’t used or drawn on the experience, the understanding, or the knowledge that I gained here at this academy. I hope that reflect (the same) for all of you here today. … The Academy set me up for success; it gave me the foundation that I needed to be successful.”
The next honoree was the Sergeant Major of the Montenegro Army, Sergeant Major of the Armed Forces Vladin Kojic a graduate of Class 65. Speaking on behalf of Kojic was Sgt. Maj. Miodrag Jokanovic, a Class 66 international student from Montenegro who read a letter from Kojic.
“It is a great honor for me to be a member of the International Student Hall of Fame for the United States Army Sergeants Major Academy. In my opinion this a reward for all noncommissioned officers of the Armed Forces of Montenegro,” Jokanovic read. “At this academy I got the opportunity to get a broader perspective and a better understanding of modern warfare. I also got a chance to become more familiar with cultural diversity and meet friends from different continents, various religion and nationalities. The unique knowledge and experience I gained from this academy made me the leader I wanted to be.”
Following Jokanovic’s remarks, retired Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Huffman, the director of the International Military Student Office, joined Defreese on stage to present the Class 66 International students with the USASMA International Military Student Badge signifying their successful completion of the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy Sergeants Major Course.
Since the creation of the Sergeants Major Academy in July 1972, the Academy has had a direct impact on the education of the Army’s entire Corps of Noncommissioned Officers through its stewardship of NCO Professional Development Courses. To date, the Academy has graduated 23,639 students from the Sergeants Major Course and currently reaches more than 190,000 enlisted Soldiers annually through any one of its diverse academic products. The Academy gained international attention early on in its history and hosted its first international student in Sergeants Major Course Class 6 in 1975. Since then, it has graduated 821 international students from the Sergeants Major Course and dozens more from its other professional military education and functional courses. Our international partners proudly wear the Sergeants Major Academy International Military Student Badge and return to their homelands to expertly lead and train their Soldiers. Because of their experience at the Sergeants Major Academy, these great leaders maintain and strengthen productive relationships with the United States and their enlisted counterparts throughout the department of defense.
The U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy celebrated the accomplishments of the 476 students of Sergeants Major Course Class 66 – a class that had within its ranks 47 international students from 33 different countries as well as members of the Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard. The academy assisted in handing out 150 degrees during a Black and Gold Ceremony on June 13, followed by the International Military Student Badging and Hall of Fame induction ceremony on June 16.
On June 17, the graduates, accompanied by their family members filled the Abundant Living Faith Center in El Paso to complete their 10-month educational experience at USASMA. Command Sgt. Maj. Dennis Defreese, commandant of the Academy, welcomed all of the special guests and thanked all for attending.
“What a beautiful morning for a graduation,” he said. “This class is special for a couple of reasons – first, although I love the air force and our airmen, the last class allowed them to win two of the three writing awards and there were only three airmen in the class. The Soldiers of class 66 reclaimed some honor this year and swept all three awards. So good job. Second, and this may have happened before, but not recently and not in my memory, despite the fact that I increased the complexity and rigor of this course we did not have a single academic failure.”
Upon concluding his remarks, Defreese introduced Warrant Officer Donald Spinks, the 10th Regimental sergeant major of the Australian Army, as the keynote speaker who after thanking all for their attendance and allowing him to speak, turned his thoughts to the prominence of the day.
“Fifteen years ago this month I graduated with my fellow classmates of Class 51. I do feel privileged to return here to witness the graduation of this class,” Spinks said. “Today we join the 474 members of Class 66 to celebrate their achievements and recognize their hard work.”
After congratulating the Academy and its staff for their efforts to support Class 66, Spinks said he wanted to leave the graduates with a few words of wisdom from his experience as a graduate himself.
“Today is all about you and your classmates and rightly so. Enjoy that. I ask that you enjoy life and reflect on what has been for most a hard slope over the last few months,” he said. “However sergeants major, come tomorrow and into the beyond, it will be all about others. You will be the one they look to for guidance and leadership. It is on you to be ready. Your Soldiers, Marines, airman and coast guard will be looking to you so lead wisely.”
Spinks gave a special shout out to the international students for their accomplishment.
“I offer you a special congratulations for your achievements. For many of you English is a second or third language. The doctrine, the policies, the military function may also be very unfamiliar,” Spinks said. “Together these factors have made your year a little harder for one. You all should take great pride in accepting your scroll here today.”
To the class he encouraged all to know their jobs, become the expert; be proficient in the profession of arms; establish and maintain good routines; be responsible and accountable; live by the service values; report accurately and honestly; encourage and support education; look after one another, and take care of their families.
“Your journey starts tomorrow,” he said. “USASMA has given you the skills, the knowledge and the attitude to (go forward). The rest will be up to you.”
Following Spink’s remarks, the sergeant major was joined on stage by Defreese, Sergeant Major of the Army Dan Dailey and Command Sgt. Maj. David Davenport, Training and Doctrine Command, command sergeant major, to hand out the awards and diplomas.
Earning class awards were: Sgt. Maj. Thea E. Ray who earned the Association of the United States Army Award for Military Writing; Sgt. Maj. Deflin J. Romani who earned the Association of the United States Army Award for Military Excellence in Leadership; Sgt. Maj. Marissa M. Cisneros and Ramon Baca who earned the ULTIMA Physical Fitness Excellence Award; Sgt. Maj. John C. Black who earned the Military History Award; Sgt. Maj. Diane G. Cummings who earned the Ralph E. Haines Jr. Award for Research; Sgt. Maj. John J. Knight who earned the William G. Bainbridge Chair of Ethics Award; Sgt. Maj. Anazia Andrus-Sam who earned the National Association for Uniform Services Award; and Master Sgt. Andre Torre of Italy who earned the International Student Excellence Award.
The Army’s culminating enlisted Professional Military Education (PME) institution is the Sergeants Major Course. This course provides tools to develop critical reasoning, creative thinking and decision-making skills. Soldiers are provided an education that teaches them to enhance their character, self-expression, and strengthen teamwork abilities. The course assists in the development of logical, practical and original reasoning abilities necessary for problem solving. Students analyze problems based on available information, arrive at logical solutions and decisions with reasonable speed, communicate reasoning and decisions orally and in writing, and supervise to ensure proper execution. Intellectual honesty, integrity, and professional values and standards are highly stressed. The SMC contains a total of 1,484.7 instructional hours, and is also offered as a nonresident course which culminates with two weeks of resident instruction at the academy. The Sergeants Major Course is a ten-month resident program of instruction conducted once a year at the Academy.
A visit to Arlington National Cemetery is not complete until one witnesses a member of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) perform his or her duties keeping watch over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, or perhaps catches a glimpse of a full honors funeral complete with a U.S. Army Caisson Platoon, bugler and rifle firing team. Those who wore the uniform can tell you stories of the tireless preparations they make to their uniforms to ensure they provide “perfect honors.” So it came as no surprise to the staff of the United States Army Sergeants Major Academy that members of the Old Guard, including students from Sergeants Major Course Class 66, wanted to make perfect the NCO Heritage and Education Center’s display of the Old Guard. On April 6, they unveiled the redesigned display.
“When I came to the First Sergeant Course in 2006 this display was at the NCO museum and I noticed it was a corporal. The uniform was out of tolerance and was actually set up as a platoon Soldier and not reflective of proper setup,” Sgt. Maj. Anthony Chavez, an instructor at USASMA. “I didn’t have enough time at that point to work on it, so coming here as an instructor I got the chance. I asked the NCO Heritage and Education Center and the USASMA staff if we could do it and they were 100 percent on board.”
As a former platoon sergeant and first sergeant with the Old Guard, serving from 2005 until 2010, Chavez knew exactly who he needed to recruit and found his volunteers in Class 66 – former members of the Old Guard Master Sgts. Fletcher Whittenberg, platoon sergeant and first sergeant from 2007 – 2010; Shelly Jenkins, first sergeant, 2009 – 2012; Michael Goodman, operations sergeant 2014 – 2015; Justin Grieve, squad leader and platoon sergeant, 2004 – 2008; and Stephen McDonald, first sergeant, 2013 – 2015. After a week of after-hours work, the team was ready to display their collaboration.
“Today the 6th of April 1948 is a significant day for two reasons in our Army’s history. First the 3rd United States Infantry Regiment was reactivated and assigned the ceremonial mission of Fort Meyer, Virginia taking it from the Military District of Washington,” Whittenberg said. “Second tomb sentinels began standing guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier for 24 hours a day, 365 days a year regardless of the weather.”
Whittenberg informed those present about the Old Guard’s mission along with a bit of its history.
“The old Guard is more than just sentinel guards at the Tomb. The Old Guard is the oldest active infantry unit in the Army being first organized as the 1st American Regiment in 1784,” he said. “The Old Guard conducts memorial ceremonies to honor fallen comrades with military funerals at Arlington, National Cemetery, as well as dignified transfers of remains to Dover Air Force Base. Arlington is the only cemetery in the world that offers a full military honors funeral. Full honors burial services are offered to all officers and enlisted Soldiers who have fought and died in combat for the nation.”
Whittenberg then called for Goodman and Jenkins to pull back the cloth coverings from the display case to unveil the work they had done.
“Inside the display case you notice the memorabilia and photographs of Old Guard Soldiers and their history. Also displayed is the unique ceremonial uniform, noticeably different from the Army Service Uniform due to the stay bright medals that each Soldier must learn to make and produce on their own to place on their uniform in the exact precise location,” Whittenberg said. “Another noticeable item on the uniform that many people pick out and ask a lot of us about is, there is no name tag. They do not wear a name tag when they are in ceremonial uniform.”
Looking at the uniform and the memorabilia on display brought back some found memories by the team.
“This project was special because the time that I was at the Old Guard it really meant a lot and I got the chance to see the Army in a whole new light and perspective from a Soldier – from fighting on the battlefield to respecting them at internment,” Goodman said. “It actually took me back to when I was standing on the marks that I did with the Old Guard and I got ceremonial qualified. So seeing that uniform in that pristine condition it brought back a lot of memories.”
Chavez agreed. “Definitely, anytime I work with the uniform or see uniforms dress now, I will reflect back to the time in the Old Guard. That was a great time in my career and a very great experience including the funerals and ceremonies.”
“We were laughing because as we had the uniform and everything built on the mannequin, we were correcting each other, because we were like that’s not good, and this is not good. As a matter of fact about 10 minutes before the ceremony started this morning we noticed that the pant legs weren’t right, so we had to open the case and make another adjustment which is the same way it was in the Old Guard before a ceremony,” Whittenberg said. “You were constantly refining and retuning the uniform because you want to perform a perfect honor. Because for some American families and some foreign families it is the first time they have ever been involved with the Army so you try to give them, I hate to say that it is a show, but you try to honor that fallen Soldier by giving them perfect honors. And we wanted to have a perfect Soldier for our teammates here in the academy.”
The display, located in the foyer of the Cooper Lecture Center, is available for viewing during normal Academy hours, Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. until 5 p.m. The display is one of several that are part of the NCO Heritage and Education Center and help tell the story of the Noncommissioned Officer Corps.
For more than 44 years the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy has welcomed international military students from partner nations into its noncommissioned officer professional development courses. To date the academy has graduated 821 students, representing 76 countries, from the Sergeants Major Course.
On April 12, Command Sgt. Maj. Dennis Defreese, commandant of USASMA, recognized the achievements of seven of those graduates by inducting them into the International Student Hall of Fame during opening day ceremonies of the International Training and Leader Development Symposium hosted by Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel Dailey.
Inducted were Sgt. Maj. Lyubomir Kirilov Lambov, Sergeant Major of the Bulgarian Army; Sgt. Maj. of the Army Henry Whistler Dulce Dulce, Sergeant Major of the Army for Colombia; Warrant Officer One Anthony Lysight, Force Sergeant Major of the Jamaica Defence Force; Chief Warrant Officer Mohammad Al-smadi, Sergeant Major of the Jordanian Armed Forces; Command Sgt. Maj. Gil Ho Lee, Command Sergeant Major of the Combined Forces Command, Republic of Korea and Ground Component Command; Sergeant Major Genc Metaj, Sergeant Major of Kosovo Security Forces; and Plutonier adjutant principal Adrian Mateescu, Senior Enlisted Leader (Command Sergeant Major) for the Romanian Land Forces. One-by-one, each was brought onto the stage to unveil their plaques that will hang on the academy walls adjacent to the others who have been inducted before them.
“Each of these sergeants major have had long and distinguished careers and like all of us here have dedicated their lives in service to their country,” Defreese said. “There is a common bond between all of us here … each of us have the same basic duty – accomplishing the mission and taking care of our Soldiers. This truly makes us all brothers and sisters.”
Defreese said that he often tells delegations from other countries who visit USASMA that having international students attend NCOPDS courses is beneficial to all.
“The students and faculty here get more from our international students and faculty and their diversity, knowledge and experiences which they bring to us, then they get from us,” he said. “This newest class of hall of fame inductees are outstanding examples of this and we are privileged to honor them today and call them friends.”
Dailey lauded the inductees for their selection and said it was his honor to be the sergeant major of the Army that is bestowed the ability to spread education across the world.
“It is truly humbling,” he said. “Think about it, the sergeant major of the Army of the land forces, the combined forces of militaries across the world have come to our institution and that is a true honor.”
Dailey also lauded Defreese for his work in facilitating the international military student program.
“Our commandant has done a fabulous job of preserving the legacy of what we witness here today – an academic institution that has come second to none,” Dailey said. “This is an institution that is built time and time again from the great men and women who have been students here, but also from the great leaders that have had the privilege of leading this institution to an institution of excellence throughout history. I am truly proud and honored to represent the Army that represents the world through education.”
Since the creation of the Sergeants Major Academy in July 1972, the Academy has had a direct impact on the education of the Army’s entire Corps of Noncommissioned Officers through its stewardship of NCO Professional Development Courses. To date, the Academy has graduated 23,639 students from the Sergeants Major Course and currently reaches more than 190,000 enlisted Soldiers annually through any one of its diverse academic products. The Academy gained international attention early on in its history and hosted its first international student, Warrant Officer Robert J. May of Australia, in Sergeants Major Course Class 6 in 1975. The international partners proudly wear the Sergeants Major Academy International Military Student Badge and return to their homelands to lead and train their Soldiers. Because of their experience at the Sergeants Major Academy, these leaders maintain and strengthen productive relationships with the United States and their enlisted counterparts throughout the Department of Defense.
For every educational or training course the Army teaches there has to be a first class. On November 2, the 32 students of the first Master Leader Course 15-day pilot class completed the 108 hours of rigorous coursework and received their diplomas during ceremonies held at the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy’s Cooper Lecture Center.
Command Sgt. Maj. Dennis Defreese, commandant of USASMA, addressed the graduating students and asked them if the course was challenging, to which he received a rousing “Hooah”. He followed that with, “Was it too challenging?” to which he got only a couple of Hooahs.
“We wanted this to be challenging, right to that line,” Defreese said. “We never want anyone to fail. That is not the goal. The goal is to learn something. … The goal is to help you learn how to critically think and solve problems.”
Defreese explained that literally one year ago sergeant major of the Army Dan Dailey called the academy and said the chief of staff, Gen. Ray Odierno, wanted an E-8 level course; he wanted it quickly; how long will it take?
“So the answer is, about one year, that’s how long it takes and the nonresident version of this may take until next summer to get it done because that takes even longer to do,” he said. Defreese lauded the students for being the first, putting up with the long academic days and for providing their comments and feedback.
“The feedback we get from you is absolutely vital to the second pilot we are going to run in Utah,” Defreese said. “From there we will do a little bit more refinement and do the final pilot at the reserve center at Fort Knox and then sometime in Fiscal Year 17 it will be a totally vetted (intermediate operating capability). So you are an integral part of that and it should be something that you are proud of.”
Charles Guyette, the director of the Directorate of Training, lauded the efforts of the training developers and staff who put the course together.
“When the chief of staff and the Army leaders say, “Hey go out and make this thing happen”, and I turn to you guys and you put all this effort to it and it comes to fruition today after these 15 grueling days of academia that we had to put these Soldiers through, the outcome is fully credited to you,” he said.
Asked what he thought about the creation of the Master Leaders Course, graduate 1st Sgt. Thomas Hughes of the Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Armored Division, said that he thought it was the right move.
“I personally haven’t been to an NCO professional development course since 2007. That’s eight years,” he said. “So I think there is tremendous value-added to have a Master Leader Course that kind of bridges the gap between the Senior Leader Course and the Sergeants Major Course.”
Hughes noted the course’s rigor and tight schedule, but also believed that if he had attended the course earlier in his career he would have been a more successful senior NCO.
“I believe this course really sets up a senior sergeant first class promotable, or master sergeant who is going to go onto a staff, to assist more than anything,” Hughes said. “We briefly covered a lot of the stuff a first sergeant would do, but as a first sergeant you still need to understand what (occurs) on a staff so you know how your company will be required to support whatever decisive action that you will be engaging in.”
Fellow graduate Master Sgt. John Itzin, the senior operations NCO at the Army Reserve Readiness Training Center at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and who will be one of the instructors for the third pilot class, said the course is a little more oriented towards staff functions than first sergeant duties and he believes it is on target.
“Being able to integrate ourselves onto a staff and be more valuable to the commander and other staff officers is something NCOs really need to be cognizant of. The ability to be able to be brought back in and have a more meaningful role I believe is very important,” he said. “As a promotable sergeant first class being able to back off from that tactical outlook of task management and to step back (from) and get the big picture is something that is brought into this course. I think that is very valuable because that is one area that I struggled with when I was that promotable sergeant first class going into my first staff position.”
The 108 hours of instruction is broken down into three modules – Foundation, Leadership and Army Profession, and Army and Joint Operation, Sgt. Maj. William Gentry, the Curriculum Development and Education Division sergeant major said.
“It provides the Army with senior noncommissioned officers who are self-aware and NCOs of character, confidence, and presence with the skills necessary to shape the joint operational environment, overcome the friction created by uncertainty and operate in an ambiguous environment,” he said. “So I believe this course is geared for the sergeants first class and the newly promoted master sergeants to enable them to perform the duties of a senior staff NCO or operations master sergeant in the S3. The course will give them the confidence to go into that staff role, with the education and institutional knowledge to be a productive member of a senior staff.”
The first pilot class was taught using two different instructional strategies – one using essays assessments, the other using a research project that enhances the collaboration between the students. Gentry said based on the educational outcomes from those two strategies will determine the way ahead for the next two pilot classes.
“The desired outcome is an operational leader that has the talent, ability and confidence in himself or herself to be a creative and critical thinker, to not just worry about beans and bullets, but to actually be able to think on line with that company commander or that field grade officer on the staff,” Gentry said. “Right now I give this course two thumbs up. Because it is only going to get better from here. When the students tell me they wish they had known this stuff three or four years ago and they are excited about what they know now, we are hitting the mark.”
The Master Leader Course consists of topics such as Army and Joint Doctrine; Interagency Capabilities and Considerations; Plans, Orders and Annexes; Decisive Action; Military Justice Rules and Procedures; Command Inspection program; Servant leadership; Personnel Readiness; Military Decision Making Process; Public Speaking; Military Briefings and Writing.
The MLC has been specifically designed to prepare sergeants first class for the increased leadership and management responsibilities required of all senior NCOs. The course is the fourth of five NCO Professional Development Courses beginning with the Basic Leader Course and culminating with the Sergeants Major Course. The makeup of the first pilot class consisted of 32 individually selected regular Army, National Guard and Reserve component professional NCOs from a wide range of career management fields.
The U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy held a change of responsibility ceremony October 6, when Command Sgt. Maj. Tedd J. Pritchard relinquished his duties as deputy commandant to Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey Huggins in the academy Cooper Lecture Center.
Command Sgt. Major Dennis Defreese, USASMA commandant, presided over the ceremony and gave remarks after the passing of the Academy colors.
“These two outstanding command sergeants major and Soldiers have dedicated their entire adult lives to our country and to the sons and daughters of our Nation. They have both taken on the most difficult jobs the Army has for NCOs and have never shied away from leading Soldiers,” Defreese said. “The deputy commandant job at USASMA is unlike any other command sergeant major job in the Army. He is not just an advisor, but a part of the chain of command and absolutely vital to the operations of this academy.”
Defreese lauded Pritchard’s career and thanked his family for their support of their soldier in the Army and then turned his attention to the incoming deputy commandant.
“I have known Command Sgt. Maj. Jeff Huggins for a while and have seen him at conferences and venues around the Army. He is well-known as a professional Soldier and a great leader,” Defreese said. ”He has a sterling reputation. … I am absolutely confident that he will do an outstanding job and help lead this academy into the future.”
Defreese then turned the podium over to Pritchard for his outgoing remarks who thanked all those in attendance and lauded the support of the staff, cadre and faculty.
“I have had the privilege to serve this great organization and tried hard to make it better. I’ve served with the best of the best; the top one percent; the top dogs of their profession; the A-type personalities; the OCD department; the perfectionists and theorists. What a great combination of experience to serve by, with and for and I would not trade (it) for anything in the world,” Pritchard said. “Command Sgt. Maj. Huggins, this institution is in the best position it has ever been and the professionals within USASMA are totally and completely dedicated to keeping USASMA on top. The team anxiously awaits for you to get on board.”
Thanking the commandant for the confidence in selecting him,
Huggins also thanked the crowd for their attendance and promised everyone that he would not let them down as he takes over as the new deputy commandant.
“I look forward to being a part of Team Bliss and the team of teams that is here,” Huggins said. “Let’s do some good things. … Commandant thank you for the opportunity and I take this challenge on. Ultima, Army Strong.”
The U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy, Fort Bliss, Texas, handed out certificates of graduation October 23, to the 13 students who made up the final pilot class of the Commandants Pre-Command Course.
Before handing out the certificates to the seven commandants, three deputy commandants and one incoming Sergeants Major Course director, Command Sgt. Maj. Dennis Defreese, USASMA’s 21st commandant, made a few remarks about the course and its ultimate goal.
“Hopefully you got something out of this. Our goal for this (course) is for it to be a dynamic, and by dynamic I mean we will change it based on input and the needs of our commandants and deputy commandants out in the force. We also want it to be relevant to the position that you are in,” Defreese said. “We don’t train to do this kind of a job so my hope is that we have given you some tools and if not you need to tell us.”
Defreese urged the graduates to inclusive in their role as commandant.
“Never forget to input compassion and understanding when you are dealing with your students. By the time it gets to you for a drop (or other administrative issue), that you are looking at both sides,” Defreese said. “You are not just the staff and faculty commandant; you are the commandant for the students and the staff and faculty. (Remember) the reason you are the commandant is because you are looking at both sides and you are the person who says, ‘I believe this is the right way to go.’”
On the job for only 60 days as the commandant of the NCO Academy at Fort Shafter, Hawaii, Command Sgt. Maj. John McDwyer said attending the course was very beneficial.
“When I first got (to Fort Shafter) I was inundated with a lot of stuff and not really understanding anything. Coming here to this course with everything they have provided has given me a basis for really what my job is and what I should be looking for,” he said. “More importantly than the things they taught in the course was the ability to talk to the other commandants who have been in position for a while. They give context to everything and allow me to balance a little bit more on what should be done and methods to do it.”
Command Sgt. Maj. Alma Zeladaparedes, who will soon take over as commandant of the NCO Academy at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, said she came to the course with no knowledge of what a commandant is.
“I came here empty. You know you have your rucksack and it is empty. Here from day one I collected so many things that I can say that now I am in full battle rattle, fully equipped, with what I need to do to be successful,” Zeladaparedes said. “Being around this network of sergeants major and mentors who have been successful, to know that network is amazing; to know that I can come here empty handed and leave with this amount of knowledge because what they know, I know because all I have to do is reach out to them. That’s amazing.”
While the course was developed to better prepare command sergeants major to take on the role of commandant, seats were also made available to deputy commandants to help them understand the complexities of commanding an academy. Attending the course was humbling for Sgt. Maj. Robyn Collier, deputy commandant of the NCO Academy at Fort Huachuca, Arizona and who has been in the position for about a year.
“I was honored to be invited to this class and see what other commandants and other deputies are doing,” she said. “I would have liked to attend something like this prior to taking on my duty as deputy. I fell that this is definitely beneficial in preparing you and giving you some insight on what goes on. What the mission command is all about. It is a really good course. They thought of a lot of things that are very important to being a commandant.”
Sgt. Maj. Jude Landry, course manager for USASMA, said he believed the course was on track to be very valuable and does not believe there will be many changes going into the future.
“Most of the changes I see that will take place are just continuing to keep up with Army transformation. Regulations are constantly changing, so we need to stay on top of that,” he said. “There were couple of instances where things changed in October, regulatory guidance change, and we didn’t have time to get it into the current course, the mentors and the (subject matter experts) were able to articulate those changes in the classroom. So we were able to put out the most up-to-date information we could possibly do.”
Sgt. Maj. Gerardo Dominguez, course facilitator for the final pilot class called the class “phenomenal.”
“I think it is a phenomenal course, something that we cannot let die out,” he said. “We need to continue to push it because as a command sergeant major at a brigade level your roles and responsibilities are different than a commandant in a command position. This course gave the students the tools they need to know as a commandant.”
The biggest takeaway for most of the students, besides learning what their right and left limits are as an enlisted commander/commandant, was the importance of networking.
“How big relationships are with your installation, between all of the commandants where you have can help each other out so that you are not reinventing the wheel and there is somebody out there if you have a question,” said McDwyer. “You are not alone. Sometimes as a commandant you feel like you are alone because of all of your responsibilities, but there is a support network there to get you the right answers to make sure you are not messing up.”
The Commandants Pre-command Course is a challenging week-long 50-hour course of instruction designed to prepare commandants and deputy commandants assigned in positions throughout the Army’s noncommissioned officer educational institution. It is designed to bring command sergeants major into those unique positions where they are actually executing command-type leadership – a relationship that is not traditionally associated with being an NCO. It consists of instruction in 15 different topic areas: The Authorities of an Enlisted Commandant, Joint Ethics, Lines of Command/Support, Training Management, Inventory Management/Property Accountability, Budget Management, Academy Manning, Course Administrative Requirements, Instructor Development program, Civilian Personnel Management System, Student records, Learning Theories and Styles, Law for Leaders, Registrar, and Accreditation. The initial proof of principle was conducted in September of 2013.
The U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy – the proponent for all NCOES common core courses, the Battle Staff NCO Course and Structured Self Development (SSD) – recently scored an “A+” on its evaluation from the American Council on Education or ACE.
“This is a good news story,” Command Sgt. Maj. Dennis Defreese, commandant of USASMA said. “We went through the ACE evaluation and got the most credits that we have ever received for SSD I and Warrior Leader Course, all the way up through the Sergeants Major Course and SSD V. It is pretty significant for all of the credit they gave us.
Sgt. Maj. Robert Hixson, deputy director for the Department of Training, explained the process ACE used to evaluate USASMA’s courses.
“ACE evaluation looks at our teaching method, the level of rigor we put into the course, the examinations and the rigor put in them as well,” he said. “They look at what we teach and they compare that to college curriculum to ensure it matches the level of credit awarded. A lower division credit equates to an associate degree; upper division credit would be for a bachelor degree; and graduate division, which we didn’t get any credit, would be for masters.”
The evaluation of each course takes time with USASMA supplying all products to be evaluated in advance.
“Over a six month period we had to give ACE a period of instruction which is basically every class; everything the instructor has; and everything the student sees for evaluation to include every examination,” he said. “We had to provide them all of that and then we had several conference calls with them where we talked about the curriculum.”
Hixson said the dialogue between USASMA and ACE went back and forth for some time with ACE asking questions like, ‘Which program of instruction, or POI, is the valid one for the Warrior Leader Course – the 15-day POI, the 17-day or the 22-day?’ Once all of the questions were answered, ACE proceeded with their evaluation of the courses.
“What they do is they take three professors from various academic institutions and each one independently will review a POI and determine what credit they think should be awarded for that POI based on the level of work and level of education in the lesson,” Hixson said. “Then they bring the recommendations together and there is a month grace period where they come in and visit for two days, and go through the entire curriculum block while they are here. Then they went back for a month and reviewed what they got from the professors and made their credit recommendation.”
Then end result of the evaluation – an additional 23 college credits for the various courses. (See the chart)
With most colleges requiring 60-80 credit hours, depending on your major to obtain an associate degree and 120 hours to obtain a bachelor degree, Structured Self Development and NCOES will get you the needed credits to obtaining your degree that much easier.
“Most colleges require you to get four classes for residency, so what you get in NCOES and four basic classes you could have an associate’s degree potentially,” he said. “That is what I did, a long time ago at Fort Riley, I went to the community college and I had to take a math course, an English course, a science course, and a fine arts course. And with those four classes I was awarded an associate’s degree.”
Some colleges may require you to take up to eight classes in residency depending on your major for a bachelor degree,’ said Roxanna Taylor, USASMA’s education program advisor.
Hixson cautioned that not all colleges accept what ACE recommends, but regardless the education you receive through the Army does go towards your degree aspirations. He added that even though ALC-Common Core is no longer being taught, the recommended credit it received will sit in place for those who completed the course to allow them that college credit.
ACE is the nation’s most visible and influential higher education association and represents the presidents of U.S. accredited, degree-granting institutions, which include two- and four-year colleges, private and public universities, and nonprofit and for-profit entities. ACE’s strength lies in their loyal and diverse base of more than 1,700 member institutions, 75 percent of which have been with ACE for more than 10 years. ACE convenes representatives from all sectors to collectively tackle higher education challenges, with a focus on improving access and preparing every student to succeed.
The United States Army Sergeants Major Academy recognized two individuals Aug. 22 for their contributions to the education, training and lineage of the Noncommissioned Officer Corps and NCO Education System by inducting them into the USASMA Hall of Honor.
Command Sgt. Maj. Dennis Defreese, commandant of the Academy, hosted the event. Also attending were several special guests who included Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III and past Hall of Honor Inductees Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston, Command Sgt. Maj. Jimmy Spencer and Command Sgt. Maj. Dan Elder, U.S. Army retired. They were all their to welcome the newest members of the Hall of Honor – Command Sgt. Maj. Don Thomas, U.S. Army Retired and Sgt. Maj. Steven R. Merrill, U.S. Army retired. Thomas was unable to make the ceremony due to a personal medical emergency.
“Those selected for induction into the Hall of Honor are rare individuals who, over the course of their careers, have left a significant, lasting and positive impact on the training, education and development of NCOs,” Defreese said. “The two individuals we induct today are perfect examples of that.”
Defreese then gave short introductions for each inductee touching on their accomplishments and careers before unveiling their wall plaques which will hang in the Academy alongside their fellow inductees. Afterward the inductees were given the opportunity to address the crowd. The first to be inducted was Merrill.
“I whole did not expect to receive an award like this,” Merrill said. “I would like to thank the committee that did the selection. I especially what to my long time mentor, who has mentored me and provided a lot of input and direction and that is sergeant major retired Dan Hubbard.”
Merrill ended his remarks with some levity and thought provoking words.
“This is one of those truisms that you probably all have recognized and maybe not have articulated it, but every unit I was in in the army I found that about one third of the people love being in garrison, one third of the people love being in the field, and one third of the people think they screwed up royally by joining the army. So that no matter what you are doing, what you are trying to accomplish in your unit – two thirds of the people are already ticked off. So this isn’t a popularity contest. You have to do what you think is right, find those trusted agents to sound off with, and make sure that you are doing right, and then just continue to do right.”
Because Thomas was unable to attend the ceremony, Sullivan spoke on his behalf.
“I am going to say a few words about my friend sergeant major Don Thomas. He was stricken with a heart attack this morning and is probably on his way to Houston. He told me about two hours ago at the hospital that this honor was the highlight of his life. And he meant it. I know he regrets not being with you,” Sullivan said. “I have been all over the world with CSM Thomas and I can tell you, when you show up in Korea, Fort Hood, Texas, and other posts in the US Army, people flock to this great soldier. He is a great mentor, always willing to listen, listen to anybody’s problem, guide them in any way that he can and he is also fun to be with; a standard setter, a wonderful and magnificent soldier who has never stopped serving.”
The United States Army Sergeants Major Academy Hall of Honor was established in May 2006, with the purpose of providing a highly visible and prestigious means of recognizing individuals who significantly contributed either to the Sergeants Major Academy or to the Noncommissioned Officer Education System.
Inductees must have served meritoriously in a position of great responsibility and provided service distinguished by meritorious achievement and significant improvements or enhancements to existing programs or procedures.
Soldiers being selected to take the Sergeants Major Course in a nonresident status should prepare themselves to be introduced to a whole new course, one that will challenge them and is as close to the resident course as it can be in a distance learning environment, said Command Sgt. Maj. William Tilley, deputy director Sergeants Major Course and leader of the Nonresident Sergeants Major Course for the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy at Fort Bliss, Texas.
“We have added a lot of rigor into the course, just like the resident course,” he said. “The next two years is not going to be a cakewalk like it used to be. The education you will receive is up-to-date and relevant and mirrors what is being taught in the resident course. So you are getting all five departments, Military History, Resource Management, Army Operations, Joint Operations, and Force Management.“This course is going to take time, a lot of commitment and dedication to complete the distance learning portion of the course, but you can do it. It is not that difficult and what you are going to learn out of the course is going to make you a better sergeant major and get you rolling on to someday being a command sergeant major.”
Making the course relevant is something that has been a topic of past graduates for years and is not a new issue for the Academy.
Since the very beginning of the Sergeants Major Course in 1973, the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy has been grappling with the challenge of providing a nonresident version in order to meet the needs of the Army each year. In 1974 USASMA kicked off its inaugural Corresponding Studies Course (later to be known as the Nonresident Sergeants Major Course) with the typical mail correspondence course. That was followed by computer discs with all of the course curricula. With the advent of the Internet in the mid-1980s the idea of online instruction came into play, but at the time it too had its limitations. As technology continued to advance and new software were developed the Academy found the challenge of distance learning getting a little easier. Still the course had issues – high attrition rates, course length, technology issues and relevance.
Upon his arrival to the Academy in 2011, Command Sgt. Maj. Rory Malloy, the commandant of USASMA, made it one of his priorities to fix the problems in the course and bring it to a point where it mirrored the resident course. For that mission he turned to the Academy staff to come up with the fix.
“We did an in-depth study on why those attrition rates were so high and a lot of it was that it took too long to get through the course,” said Malloy. “There weren’t any good control measures, or gates, in place to ensure a sergeant major was progressing on course, and by the time they were checked they were so far behind we were losing a lot of them for lack of progress. The other challenge was under the old course they had three years to complete it and they would get promoted to sergeant major, serve their two years and then retire and not complete the course. So it was taking too long.”
Tilley said that making changes to the course wasn’t hard “when you have got the 10-pound brains, the guys that can actually put what is being taught by an instructor face-to-face into a distance learning product that is relevant to the end user.”
Those 10-pound brains he referred to where his senior instructor Juan Ortiz, the staff of the Sergeants Major Course, course developers and the Interactive Multimedia Instruction office staff.
“Juan Ortiz is my go-to guy for the course. He pretty much builds the lessons,” Tilley said. “He gets with all of the other senior instructors of the resident course; gets feedback from those guys and pulls all of their information in so he can put together the right product that is delivering the right learning outcome and once he says it is good to go, the chief instructor looks it over and if everything is good we send it off to the IMI guys so they can put that product into a dl platform.”
The dL Conversion Process
Ortiz has had experience in all aspects of the Sergeants Major Course – he graduated from Class 52, he taught the resident course on the platform and currently he is the senior instructor for the nonresident course. He had the arduous task of converting the resident course into a relevant distance learning experience.
“First I take all of the lessons and go over them and filter out what can be done individually in distance learning and what has a group process or has to be done in a group,” he said. “Then once I identify those I go over to the developers and they look at every lesson and we adjust those group lessons into individual projects. It goes through a process we call storyboarding. They go through the whole process of looking at the lesson plan and putting into a storyboard format where the IMI folks can translate it into an actual multimedia product.”
Once the product has been designed it is transferred into a graphic user interface where group discussions are substituted with threaded discussions, similar to a blog; checks on learning are added along with videos and narration. Once the product has been completed, Ortiz explained, it goes through an initial validation.
“When we get the product the first time, which is called an Alpha, we have people go through the whole product and indentify anything wrong with it,” Ortiz said. “It then goes back to IMI or the contractors who fix it and then goes into a BETA. When it goes into a BETA final we do it again, look at it, ensure everything is working, content is correct, and if so we sign off on it that it is okay to post.”
Ortiz said the validation is done by what he refers to as performers, those who are familiar with the material such as instructors and course developers; and the nonperformers those who are not familiar with the material but are there to push all the buttons, navigate all of the links and ensure the functionality of the online product.
“So we go through this validation to ensure everything is working within Blackboard (an online education software platform) and we identify any shortcomings and go back and make fixes,” he said. “Once we fix them we don’t do a second validation, we just test that particular item they identified to be fixed.”
The hardest part of converting the resident course, Ortiz said, was trying to maintain the same learning outcomes.
“It is a very difficult process because you have to look at a lesson plan which is designed for a resident course and interaction with people, and then figure out, ‘How can we get the same affect online?’ So we came up with the checks on learning,” he said. “As we go through the process we stop and we ask the student a series of questions. If they fail the checks on learning the course will send them back to that particular module and they will go over it again. That was a difficult part coming up with the checks on learning.”
Another area that needed attention was student briefings. Students are required to research, develop and give briefings on various subjects, but how do you do that in a distance learning environment?
“One of the most challenging things to do is the briefings. How do we do briefings? In the past we used to send that particular student to their sergeant major to have them give their brief and we would get confirmation they did it,” Ortiz said. “We wanted to get it better. So what we have done this year is what we call PowerPoint narratives. Now the student has to develop the briefing; they have to do a narration on the briefing; and then they upload it to Blackboard. That way the instructor can grade their briefing because [the students] are actually narrating the briefing in their own words.”
In the not too distant future, Ortiz said, they plan on developing a way to video record briefings.
The IMI Process
While determining how to break down a particular lesson into its learning outcomes is a difficult process, portraying that in the actual online version is a process in and of itself. That part is left up to the staff of the Interactive Multimedia Instruction office and contractors.
Working within the confines of Blackboard and the Army Learning Management System, the IMI folks have been creating the distance learning modules using HTML, or HyperText Markup Language. This allowed the course to be delivered anywhere in the world, but it was cumbersome, slow and students often found themselves getting timed out or having the module crash and then they would have to start over from the very beginning. That is until recently.
“The way we developed lessons previously was through HTML pages so when the person clicked the next page a new HTML page would open up. That kind of slowed down the system,” said Geraldo Hernandez an Interactive Multimedia Instructor. “So our challenge was how to make a faster experience when opening up a page. We did some research and we developed something that we called a virtual database array. Basically what that is, instead if developing 40 HTML pages we developed one java script and in short term code put everything into one java script page.”
The new process allows students the ability to access information much faster without having to open numerous HTML pages and reduces issues with getting timed out or system crashes. The folks at IMI also made numerous improvements to the overall product – automatic bookmarking every five seconds so you never lose your place, if the lesson mentions a reference the Soldier can click on that reference and the lesson will take the student to the exact page the reference relates to, you can listen to the narration or mute it and just read the narration and much more.
Hernandez said creating the new Nonresident Course was not hard thanks to all of the folks at the Academy.
“Making the course exactly like the resident course was not difficult thanks to the great help from the training developers and the facilitators of the resident course,” he said. “They know what the training support package looks like, they know what the material is so with their help giving us the information and giving us a layout and a story board it was easy for us to use this template we created. They would also recommend what images to use, so we would go image mining and look for something similar to what they are looking for. All that made it a lot easier.”
Final certification of the new course took place earlier this year and all modules are ready for delivery. The biggest problem so far, Soldier’s web browsers aren’t set up properly to access Blackboard or the new course.
“One of the problems we have been encountering is that the student’s or Soldier’s computer is not set up to accept Blackboard or to view a Blackboard web page. Blackboard has created a training site to ensure they have the latest java script, web browser, everything updated to allow Blackboard to be read easily, and then they will step into the lessons,” Hernandez said. “Blackboard technicians get hundreds of calls because the Soldier’s web browser has not been updated. Some people out there still use IE6. As far as the course itself, we haven’t gotten any real complaints.”
Tilley said so far Class 40, the first to use the new course, has had nothing but positive comments about the changes.
“We are getting a lot of positive feedback from Class 40 which is the new one we just launched that has the five departments in it like the resident course,” Tilley said. “There were a couple of hiccups in the beginning but I don’t think it was the IMI guys fault, I think it was kind of the validation process where some of the buttons weren’t working. So we went back to the IMI guys, pulled the product offline, made sure it was good and upload it back. The turnaround was good.”
Tilley added that because the has been updated to match the resident course, students graduating from it will receive more college credits from the American Council on Education.
“Because of the rigor we have put into it and because of it almost mirroring the resident course, they are getting 12 ACE credit hours for completing the course,” he said. “It is a good incentive. Prior to the update it was 9 credit hours.”
To ensure students stay on track and to keep the class on schedule, the Academy has instituted gates or time hacks for when modules are to be completed and when new modules are released. As each class is constituted, the students are given access to only those modules on Blackboard and won’t be allowed to fast track the course.
“The modules, classes 38-39 were gated every 6 months, the legacy courses, classes 37 and before, they could actually fast track it and get done earlier. But we don’t want the students to fast track,” he said. “So now they have module suspenses. So say they complete the module early, they could in essence be waiting for two or three weeks before the next module is released.”
The reason behind it is due to limited seats in the two week resident phase.
“We can only hold upwards of about 80 students per two week resident phase and we run 10 per year. So if you have a whole bunch of fast trackers that would go through the course, we would have an influx of too many students trying to get into the resident phase,” Tilley said. “We would have to ask for overages and we only have five instructors so we would be creating a large backlog. This makes it so we always have 50 to 70 students per resident phase.”
Ortiz explained the other reason they instituted gates, was because they want to keep the course relevant. If changes are instituted in the resident course, they will be able to incorporate those changes in the nonresident course and everyone will remain on par.
“The reason it has been changed is because we can’t do that anymore in order to stay current and relevant and parallel to the face-to-face (resident) course,” he said. “The changes to Class 65 are minimal so that is going to allow us to stay parallel to them. But in order to do that we can’t load everything up. If we can do something on a module that is not due to be released for 6 months, why would I want to put it up there and pull it back down to make changes. This way we can make the changes before the module is released.”
The Resident Phase
Tilley said students coming to the two-week resident phase should prepare themselves for a rigorous challenge as well.
“First they need to be in shape and they need to be prepared to share their experience with everyone in the classroom,” he said. “They have to do briefings while they are here, there is some CPOF training and a lot of case studies to be involved in. You have to come here and be committed to the course and are able to share your experience with everyone and you will learn from everyone as well.”
Upon arrival to the Academy, students are in processed. On Day Two, the students are weighed in and if they are deemed overweight, they are taped. If they fail they are given one week to come into compliance with the standard. On Day Three they are given the standard Army Physical Fitness Test. If they fail that they are given one week and are retested. Failure to meet standards is an automatic dismissal from the course.
“It takes a whole lot of commitment to get through this course. It is not a cake walk; rigor has been built into it,” Tilley said. “If you are one of those Soldiers that wants to continue to be a member of this great Army and be a sergeant major it takes a little bit of dedication and time. It is a course that is not difficult if they stay focused and progress through the course.”