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.
In an age of uncertainty, faced with the realities of sequestration and a downsizing Army, Gen. David G. Perkins, commanding general of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, spent the morning of Sept. 30 providing clarity on the Army’s operating concept and the role of the senior NCO in mission command, to the 454 students of Sergeants Major Course Class 66.
TRADOC does a lot of things, Perkins explained, but what it is for is to be the architect of the Army, the designers of the future Army, who are currently looking at 2025 to 2040 and what capabilities the Army needs to have. TRADOC is the “design-build firm” for the Army.
As the designer of the Army Operating Concept, Perkins said the institution took a look at past concepts and found the 1981 Airland Battle Operating Concept to a powerful example of what the operating concept does – ask the big question.
“The first question it asked was what echelon of war are we going to design the United States Army to operate in? That is a big question. It didn’t get wrapped around small questions,” he said. “So remember that when you are in charge of an organization, your job is to ask big questions and not get wrapped around the axle with small answers.”
The second thing an operating concept does, he said, is describe the operating environment. Airland Battle was designed to go to battle with Russia in the central plains of Europe with NATO, a well-known coalition. Everything was known in Airland Battle Concept.
“Before you march off on small answers, the most important thing you have to do is define the problem. Define the problem you are trying to solve before you spend all night trying to solve it,” Perkins said. “Beware of people who define the problem by taking the answer they want and rewording it in the form of a problem.”
The problem the Airland Battle Concept identified was “Fight outnumbered and win.”
Using that template, Perkins said, TRADOC came up with “Win in a complex world,” complex being defined as unknown, unknowable and constantly changing.
“As an NCO you have to understand the logic of how we get to where we are,” he said. “Words have meaning and the good thing about doctrine is you get to define what the meaning is. All I need to know is do you want me to build an Army for a known world or an unknown world. Because those are two different armies. If it is unknown you design, build and buy things differently.”
In order to win in a complex world, Perkins said the Army must conduct unified land operations and then asked the question, “But what are we for?” It is very powerful once you decide what you are for because you can start grading what you do, he added.
To come up with that answer, TRADOC looked at Google’s mission – to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful – and found clarity in purpose. From there TRADOC defined what the Army is for – “To seize, retain and exploit the initiative to get to a position of relative advantage.”
“That could be to get the advantage against the Taliban, Hurricane Sandy, some humanitarian disaster, whatever you are dealing with,” he said. “(It is) relative advantage because the world is constantly changing; what is an advantage today may be a disadvantage tomorrow. The world you are in today is constantly changing.”
Turning his focus to mission command, Perkins said in order to conduct unified land operations we must institute mission command. Mission command, he said, is a multi-warfighting function and a command philosophy.
“In mission command we balance command and control, not to ensure compliance, but to empower initiative. Because you don’t know what your subordinates need to do piece-by-piece, so you just give them mission-oriented orders,” he said. “(You need to) understand, visualize and describe the mission. Once you do all of that, then you direct. Mission command is all about leadership because if you don’t have leadership you cannot execute mission command. If you can’t conduct mission command, you can’t do unified land operations, and if you can’t do unified land operations you probably are not going to win in a complex world.”
Perkins urged the class to “never lose clarity in the search for accuracy;” that their job was to conceptualize and not get caught up on the small things and he ended by telling the students that they owned the profession.
“So what are you for? The stewardship of the profession. You own the profession,” he said. “Because you own the profession we lean on you. We are addicted to you and all of the Soldiers because we trust that you know what you are doing and you will give your life to do that and that is the only reason we are ever going to be able to win in a complex world.”
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.”
Photos and story by David Crozier, Command Communications
The U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy Fellowship Program logged on with the Pennsylvania State University’s (Penn State) World Campus August 20 when the first 20 sergeants major selected for the program received their orientation briefings from their faculty advisor Dr. William Diehl, Ph. D., coordinator of Online Graduate Programs in the Adult Education Program and Assistant Professor at the university.
“I want to congratulate all of you on being selected for being fellows in this program,” Diehl said. “I will learn more about you in the next few days, but I am really impressed with your background. It is really a privilege to be here and work with you.”
With his introduction complete, Diehl spent two days with the fellows giving them an understanding of the Penn State community, online learning, resources available as well as the technology they will use, an overview of the program and main courses, hands-on library and research skills, and a question and answer period at the end.
Eluding to the fact that the sergeants major will be full-time students focusing on completing 33 semester hours of study in one year, Diehl said they were in a unique and good situation.
“Most of the Masters students are working at a professional job 40 hours a week and then they are coming to take one or two classes to get through the program. So it is a much longer process for them,” he said. “You have your own challenges because you have four classes going in and you are going to have to juggle that.”
Another challenge Diehl said the students have is the fact that some of the students haven’t been in school for a while and that there are all kinds of issues with distance learning, but there is a large support system for them to use including a whole team of military support specialists.
For Command Sgt. Maj. Dennis Defreese, seeing one of his major goals as the commandant of USASMA come to fruition and having the sergeants major on board to begin the first iteration, makes it all the more meaningful.
“When we picked the 20 fellows, I could see that their records were impressive, but now after having met and talked with them I am impressed with the level of talent we got and wanted to be a part of this. My initial impression is I think we made the right selection for this program,” Defreese said. “I am excited that this is finally starting. This is a big win for the NCO Corps and for our Army.”
The establishment of the Fellowship Program, Defreese said, also means the leaders of the Army believe NCO education is important and that NCOs can be critical thinkers and help solve problems.
“I think it says a lot about our NCO Corps, but it is really because of what the officers think about us,” he said. “They think that we are worthy of this kind of program and they actually believe that we are an important part, and an important asset to this Army and we bring something to the table.”
Selected as one of the fellows in this inaugural class, Sgt. Maj. Scott Cates, who has spent the last year as an instructor in the Sergeants Major Course, said it is a privilege to be selected and believes the program to be a great advancement for the NCO Corps and the Sergeants Major Academy.
“I personally signed up for this because I look at things as an opportunity,” Cates said. “This is an opportunity to make the NCO Corps look better and in the future I think that this will help me not only do a better job while I am in the Army as an instructor at USASMA, but it is something that I can take with me when I exit the military.”
Fellow classmate Sgt. Maj. Christopher Roche whose last assignment was at Fort Drum, New York, said he signed up primarily to give back to the Army and to help NCOs be better leaders. Being a student full-time, however, has him wondering how it will go.
“Honestly I don’t know what we are going to do for a whole year. This is the first time in my military career where we haven’t had to do school and work,” Roche said. “So a lot of us are looking at it as a higher level education that will have a lot more reading, a lot more writing, but we are forgetting the fact that we are not going to have a 9 to 5 job, or actually a 6 to 6 job, which most of us did before getting here.”
Roche added that once he completes the fellowship program, he hopes to use his education to not only improve the curriculum of the Sergeants Major Course, but to help him to be an educator in the field when he leaves the academy.
“After (teaching on) the platform it is actually going to help most of us who are going to go back out into the field to do NCO professional development, leader professional development, officer professional development and help instigate the NCO Corps more into the day-to-day operation as a resource rather than just a standard bearer,” Roche said. “I think this is a great opportunity and we should have done this many, many years ago. Our sergeants major are well-deserved of this honor and I am just happy to be part of it.”
Diehl echoed his student’s comments.
“My path was not a military path, but I have always respected the role that the people in the military play,” he said. “I feel a huge responsibility to make this program successful and to make everybody here successful and because of that I feel that this is an opportunity for me to serve my country too. I think it is laying a solid foundation for courses that will be taught in this academy and I think you are going to come out with exceptional teachers and leaders.”
The United States Army Sergeants Major Academy Fellowship is the Army’s premier noncommissioned officer degree and instructor certification program aimed at sergeants major who have potential and a strong desire to be an educator for our future sergeants major. Selected candidates pursue a Master of Arts Degree in adult education through Penn State. The program was approved by the Chief of Staff of the Army on December 11, 2014.
The purpose of program is two-fold. First, fellows are personal representatives, and even ambassadors, for the Chief of Staff and the Sergeant Major of the Army. In this role, Fellows provide the civilian community with a sense of what the Army is doing and how they serve as personal envoys for senior leaders. Secondly, the fellowship program is the Army’s response to the Department of Defense instructions that require each service to have these outreach programs. The Office of the Secretary of Defense guidance recognizes that fellowships provide “Unique Opportunities” for professional development that is not available with our own Professional Military Education Systems and therefore, the NCO program at Penn State will bring a distinctive opportunity.
For more information on the program, contact Sgt. Maj. Kristy A. Swofford, director, USASMA Fellowship Program at (915)744-8827 or email her at email@example.com.
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 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.
With in-processing complete, the 466 students of Sergeants Major Course Class 65 received their final briefings Aug. 11 before starting the 10-month long program of instruction.
Sitting in the East auditorium of the Cooper Lecture Center, better known by the students as the master bedroom, the students were greeted by Command Sgt. Maj. Dennis Defreese, commandant of the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy.
“This won’t take very long and I will take whatever questions you want to ask, but really it’s about welcoming you and giving you a little bit of course expectations from my foxhole,” Defreese said. “I know you have already heard this, but this course is more challenging than (what) your battalion or brigade CSMs (told) you before you came here. That being said, it is not that hard that you shouldn’t be taking college courses (while you are here).”
He encourage all of the students that if they didn’t have a degree, or where close to completing one, to do it while they were at the academy, but balance that with taking time for the family and exploring El Paso and the surrounding area. He also cautioned the class to maintain the profession.
“The three key parts of the profession, our profession, are character, commitment and competence. You cannot mask character flaws with competence. I don’t care how good of a student you are if you have a character issue while you are here it is going to be a problem,” he said. “Look out for each other. … (Keep) each other out of trouble. … My goal here is to graduate 466 students from this academy.”
Defreese also touched on the height and weight, and Army Physical Fitness standards, stressing that as per Army directive it is a graduation requirement to meet those standards. He also talked briefly about current issues facing the force like sequestrations, force reductions and the Command Select List before turning his attention to the many guest speakers the students will hear from.
“There is no other venue in the world where you will get the level of speakers that comes in here to this course,” he said. “You are going to be hearing from some of the senior leaders in the Army. Pay attention to them, they are going to tell you what the latest is in the Army. They know what is going on.”
With his comments complete, Defreese took time to answer some questions from the students.
Later in the day the students received their in-brief from the Sergeants Major Course director, Command Sgt. Maj. Gary Coleman who introduced himself as a Class 56 graduate.
“Why do I say that? Because it is important that when you graduate from here that you are proud of this alumni,” he said. “Once you get out of here, the one thing you will do is when you see other sergeants major, what is common amongst you, is you come from here (and what class you are). So be proud of this.”
Coleman gave the students a complete overview of the mission of the Sergeants Major Course as well as introduced all of the cadre from the different departments – Force Management; Command Leadership; Army Operations; Joint Intergovernmental, Interagency and Multinational; and Training and Doctrine. Each department introduced their staff and gave an overview of the curriculum of that department.
Coleman also made note of the level of experience and education of the instructors, many with advanced degrees or higher as well as command sergeant major, combat and joint experience.
“We have a lot of experience here,” Coleman said. “So when we talk to you about being selected as being the best of the best to come here, you are going to have the best of the best teach you on all of these different aspects of the different roles of the sergeant major.”
Coleman and his staff also briefed the students on every aspect of the course concerning assessments, standards and expectations. He too cautioned the students about maintaining the standards, watching each other’s back and maintaining the profession with character, competence and commitment. He also dispelled a misconception of what the Sergeants Major Course was not.
“One of the perceptions about the Sergeants Major Course is that we are going to teach you how to be that sergeant major out there chewing butt, and all of those other things. That is not what this course is designed to do,” he said. “This course is designed to make you an adaptive and agile senior leader. To be able to go out there and be effective, be efficient, be part of the team, understand the same language that your officers are talking, and it brings credibility (to the rank).”
He said the goal was to have 466 students graduate from the course and told the students that the staff and cadre where there to help them in any way they can to make that happen.
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 32nd Chief of Staff of the Army, retired Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, who is currently the president and chief executive officer of the Association of the United States Army, spent the day March 6 with the staff, faculty, students and family members of the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy talking about leadership, commitment and service to the nation, and thanking them for their sacrifices.The day began early with Sullivan addressing the members of Sergeants Major Course Class 64 about all aspects of leadership and ended with his attendance at the USASMA Spring Ball as the guest speaker. The event was held at the Centennial Banquet Facility on East Fort Bliss.
Speaking to a room of nearly 700 people Sullivan begged the question of “What is the essence of the military,” but not before he first recognized the spouses in attendance.
“I want to make a special note of the sacrifices that you and your children have made these last few years. I start counting the wars back with Panama when we went there in December of 1989, and we haven’t stopped since. You haven’t stopped,” Sullivan said. “And many of your spouses have been with you through all of that. Whether they have been with you for 20 odd years or the last 10, or the last five, they have seen you come and go to very dangerous places. And I want to thank each and every one you for your support of these great Soldiers. I am not sure any of us understands how much of a burden [you carry].”
Sullivan then turned his attention to the question at hand – essence, what is it?
“The essence of the Army; the Navy; the Air Force; the Marines; and the Coast Guard – it’s easy to say, but what is it?” he asked. “I can take you places and you can feel it. I could ask you to touch the battle streamers on these flags up here and it would take your breath away the number of places these services have been. But what is the essence?”
Sullivan made note of the numerous battles and conflicts the United States military has been involved – places like Trenton, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Shiloh, Normandy, Saratoga and more. He talked about having to fight in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Tripoli, Guam, Iwo Jima, Chosin Reservoir, Fallujah, Bunker Hill – places he said are examples of the “essence” of the military.
“It is the history of our country. You all are a part of that history,” he said. “Many of these battle streamers were put there by men and women like you, and Soldiers that you left, and none of those battle streamers is there without the shedding of blood.
“You can’t go to Iwo Jima, the Marine Corps Battle Monument, and not be impressed by that black granite base with the names of every battle etched in the granite and colored in gold. Normandy, 10,000 crosses and Stars of David – 10,000 and more than 1,400 missing in action. Young Americans who said, ‘Hey, look at us, look at us, here we come.’ You can feel it.”
Sullivan explained his belief that the Civil War private who stands guard over Antietam on that huge granite monument to the American Soldier, represents all service members.
“I choose to believe since there are people buried there from all services; I choose to believe that that Soldier, that Civil War private represents all of you. Not for themselves, but for their country,” he said. “That is what you represent, it is a proud legacy. The essential nature of the service, yours, no matter what your country, is men and women who are willing to sacrifice themselves for something larger than themselves and do so with discipline courage and yes, even good grace and humor. You are special. You are special people.”
Command Sgt. Maj. Rory Malloy, commandant of USASMA, said he was very pleased that the Academy could get General Sullivan to come and speak to the class and at the ball.
“I could not have been more thrilled when we received the response within 10 minutes of asking if General Sullivan would be our guest speaker. He has certainly led a distinguished career in uniform and ever since he put the uniform on he has never really taken it off,” Malloy said. “He has been serving our Army quite some time and continues today in the capacity of our Association of the United States Army president and CEO. It was truly an honor having him as our guest speaker and his speech was excellent and truly inspiring.”
The El Paso Community College Administrative Services Center took on the identity of a mini United Nations March 1, as the college’s Diversity Program put on its inaugural International Festival and Cultural Bowl thanks to the help of five local cultural groups and several international students from the International Military Student program at the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy, Fort Bliss, Texas.
The first-ever event, hosted by the EPCC, combined a two hour academic challenge event with an international fair in hopes of promoting a broader cultural awareness among El Pasoans and the surrounding area.
“We are here celebrating diversity,” said Olga Chavez, director of Diversity Programs for EPCC. “We have two tremendous events going on – One we have the academic side with the culture bowl in which high school students come together in teams and answer questions on different cultures, and we are doing our international festival in which the Sergeants Major Academy and five other organizations from other cultures have come together to show off their country. We hope to let people know what different cultures are, because many of us in El Paso never get out of the district or out of our own cultures. So we want them to explore and learn more about each other [through this event].”
Chavez said the Academy’s involvement in the event was important for many reasons, but mainly because of the fact that there are so many different countries represented through the Sergeants Major Course.
Doropeo Franco, assistant director of Diversity Programs for EPCC, lauded the Academy for being able to provide representatives for 28 of the 33 counties that participated in the inaugural event.
“This festival would not be possible without the support of the Sergeants Major Academy,” he said. “They have been so good to bring the students and the families and their flags. It is just a tremendous thing that they are doing for us. “
Joyce Stophel, the Field Studies Program Manager for the International Military Student Office at the Academy, said the students volunteered to take part in the event and were happy to help EPCC kick off their inaugural event.
“[EPCC] knew about the Sergeants Major Academy having the international program and asked if we would join in with them to expose the high school students to more of the different cultures in El Paso. They wanted to give them the experience to meet each of the countries and their representatives, a sergeant major, and to learn a little bit about their countries [face-to-face] rather than sitting in a classroom textbook-wise,” she said. “This also falls under the field studies program by helping us to get our students out and meet with the local schools. We also get to promote our host family sponsorship program as a way of meeting people throughout the community that might be interested in sponsoring some of our internationals for the next class.”
With table arrangements and audio/visual equipment provided by EPCC, the Sergeants Major Course Class 64 international students brought in their laptops, brochures, artifacts and country flags prepared to talk about their country to any and all who would listen.
“The first thing I try to explain about is which place is best to visit in my country,” said Sgt. Maj. Amran Mohammed of Malaysia. “Then I try to explain to them about my flag, my language, my customs, traditions, everything. So far I really, really enjoy it.”
Master Sgt. Kippei Shiba of Japan had a similar experience.
“Today I talk about my culture and give demonstration of our traditions to everyone,” he said. “They are very interested about the Samurai Sword and Japanese calligraphy, and my son; he is wearing his karate suit so we are talking about that also. This is very awesome, I really enjoy this.”
To encourage visits to all of the international displays and participants, USASMA made up a passport book which students and visitors could take
to each station to have it stamped and to meet with the different cultures. As attendees made their way through the numerous information booths to get their passport stamped they were entertained by various dance and musical groups who performed on the main stage and further cemented the theme of the Spirit of Diversity.The event expected to attract more than 400 people throughout the day.