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.
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.”
Story and photos by David Crozier, Command Communications
The Sergeants Major Course of the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy at Fort Bliss, Texas, held a change of responsibility ceremony October 8, where Sgt. Maj. Robert R. Deblois handed over the duties and responsibilities of deputy director to Sgt. Maj. Maurice A. Thorpe. Command Sgt. Maj. Harold Reynolds, director of the Sergeants Major Course, officiated the change of responsibility and spoke a few words about both of the sergeants major during the event. “When I thought about what I wanted to talk about today, all of these ceremonies it is really bittersweet, we’ve got the new coming in with new ideas and revamping the organization but you also have that have that historical knowledge – that operational knowledge that is also leaving, that’s why it is a bittersweet thing,” Reynolds said. “If I could pick one word to describe SGM Deblois, it would be dedicated. He has been dedicated to the Army every unit that he has been in, he has dedicated to them and what they are doing. But first and foremost he has been dedicated to his family. … He has also been dedicated to the mission at USASMA of providing professional military education to senior leaders. He has been an astute asset in accomplishing that mission. And he has accomplished that mission.
Turning his attention to Thorpe, Reynolds said the one word that described him is “Commitment.”
“He is committed to his family, to the Army, to every unit that he has served. It is a hard balancing act to do, but he has done it. He is committed to the mission, to this mission, and he is committed to education, the pursuit of it, the teaching of it, and the importance of it,” Reynolds said. “Now that he takes these reins he will also ensure that you know and will give you the best curriculum that he can possibly give, as well as supporting all of the staff and students and instructors. You can’t do that without commitment.” Following Reynold’s remarks both Deblois and Thorpe were given the opportunity to address the gathered crowd. Deblois thanked the Academy and the staff for their support singling out several individuals, and specifically highlighted the work of the Sergeants Major Course Instructors and department chiefs and deputy chiefs.
“To my SMC instructors – you are world class, the best jobs in this academy. Your daily contact with the students, you are leading by example, your professionalism is phenomenal. Thanks for doing the heavy lifting,” Deblois said. “SGM and Mrs. Thorpe, I wish you good luck and congratulations. You are the right team to lead the resident course down the field.”
Deblois saved his closing remarks to the students of Class 66.
“Class 66 – you were selected to come here based off your past demonstrated abilities and potential. The goal is graduation,” he said. “Help each other out, don’t fret or worry about your assignments, first sergeant and the cadre will help you through that process. Remember the goal is graduation. Come June everything is going is work itself out.”
Thorpe likewise thanked everyone for attending the ceremony and also thanked Deblois for his dedication and leadership. “On today, the 8th of October, 2015, I have been given the privilege of accepting responsibility of the Sergeants Major Course. SGM Rob Deblois has done a great job as the leader of the corps and has performed with honor and distinction, not only here for the last two years, but for the 32 years of his career since 1984,” Thorpe said.Using a quote from famed baseball player Jackie Robinson who said, “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives,” Thorpe said that in assuming the position as deputy director of the resident Sergeants Major Course provides him a platform to impact and the educators, students, their families and our Army. He added that the ceremony was not about him, but “about preserving the tradition the history and legacy that has existed here in this institution since 1972.
I am humbled by such a responsibility and I am thankful to work with such a great team. I recognize that our educators, staff and faculty play a huge role in not only your success, but the success of the team.” Thorpe ended his remarks by asking everyone to remember the “Flag.”
“Family, always take care of your family. For some of us that is your battle buddy to your left or right. Leadership, always set the example and be that leader that you always wanted. Leadership is more than being a servant leader, it is about followership as well. Ambassadorship, find ways around the Army, find ways around the academy, your community, to always lend a helping hand. Because to some you are the only Army they know. As far as Growth, I want you to do more than be lifelong learners. I want you to encourage others to grow and remain open-minded to all things new so we all grow too,” he said. “So simply put, remember the FLAG – family, leadership, ambassadorship and family.” Additional photos can be found on the USASMA flickr site at https://www.flickr.com/photos/133821783@N02/albums.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Story and photos by David Crozier, Command Communications
The United States Army Sergeants Major Academy officially recognized Women’s Equality Day Aug. 26 with a ceremony produced by members of Sergeants Major Course Class 66 in the academy’s Cooper Lecture Center. Class 66 student, Master Sgt. Teela Washington was the mistress of ceremonies and welcomed those in attendance and announced this year’s theme.
“Today’s theme – Celebrating a Women’s Right to Vote – Breaking the Mold – pays homage to those women who were willing to stand up against inequality at a time when women were not allowed to have a voice,” Washington said. “They were the first to break the mold.”
The event began with the reading of the Presidential Proclamation recognizing Women’s Equality Day followed by a skit entitled “Who Do You See?” The skit begged the question, “Who do you see when you look at a woman – a wife, sister, mother, grandmother, niece or aunt; do you see the faces of the pioneers who came before them? Or do they see them as society sees them – as a wife, mother, or caregiver. Do they fit the traditional image of a teacher, secretary, nurse, maid, or waitress? Do you see their potential to be an athlete, surgeon, CEO, firefighter, military police, or a judge? The question continued, “Do you see us as we see ourselves? Do you see us as we really are? We are all these things and more – Soldiers, leaders.”
The guest speaker for the event was Col. Carey M. Wagen, deputy commander of the Brigade Modernization Command, Fort Bliss, Texas. Wagen is noted as being the first active duty female officer to command a combat aviation brigade and the second female commander of any aviation brigade in the Army.
Wagen began her remarks with the story of her youth saying she never felt that couldn’t do anything anyone else could do and didn’t realize she wasn’t allowed to do certain things until she joined the Army.
“I think I first realized that when I was in flight school and I found out that I was only allowed to go on hueys, blackhawks and chinooks and I wasn’t allowed to fly attack or scout helicopters because at that time they had a direct combat role which excluded women from roles that put you in direct combat,” Wagen said. “It seems rather naive today when you think about the last 13 years and where we have put women in combat. Even though I didn’t dwell on what I couldn’t do; I focused on what I could do.”
Wagen said her parents always taught her to be the best at whatever she decided to do with her life. So she decided to be the best at what the Army offered her. She added that she personally doesn’t think she broke any molds, only worked hard to progress through the ranks like her male peers. The only difference being was that she was a woman.
“Looking at the statistics women don’t make up 50 percent of the Army, only about 15-18 percent. So I suppose I unintentionally broke the mold because there is not a lot of us in the Army,” she said. “I know I was the first woman to command a combat aviation brigade. That is not what I was focused on, and it wasn’t because I did anything different than any of my peers. It was a long tough road with many gates I achieved not because I am a woman, but because I strived to be the best Soldier and best officer that I could be, and I worked hard at it.”
Jokingly she added she did not have to work hard at being a women; she had no vote in that and said you are what you are when you are born and you make the most of what you have. The only vote she did have was how she saw herself – a Soldier first, then an officer and finally a leader which happens to be a woman.
“That is how I want others to see me. When I walk into a room I don’t want somebody to say who is that female. In fact I don’t like the term female and male because this is not science class. We are men and women,” she said. “I acknowledge the fact that I am a woman, and there are a lot more men in this room than me, but I see Soldiers, leaders, future command sergeants major, and I like people to see me as a colonel, an officer, a leader, and a Soldier first. Not the fact that I am a woman.”
Wagen said the culture is changing and that she is pleased with the direction the Army and the military is going and said the fears and concerns about standards being changed or not upheld is all on “our shoulders as leaders.”
“As long as we as the Army, as a military, as a senior leaders, ensure that the standards required for the job are the standards that we must meet, then there should be no questions whether or not that ranger tabs is earned,” she said. “As a leader I recognize my responsibility to value, encourage and prepare both men and women for the challenges of being a Soldier in today’s volatile world. Whether you were born a man or woman, we are all capable Soldiers. We all have contributions to the fight.”
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.
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.”