As NCOs make their way through the ranks, taking on increased duties and responsibilities, they are provided with the fundamental tools they need through the Army’s Noncommissioned Officer Education System. Beginning with the Warrior Leaders Course and ending with the Sergeants Major Course, those duties and responsibilities, as well as the authorities, of the NCO are brought to light and imparted on those who are placed in charge of leading, training, counseling and mentoring Soldiers placed under their care. While their responsibilities are many, one thing is for certain, they have no real command authority.
The same cannot be said though for those who are placed into the position of being the commandant of an NCO Academy. These individuals not only have all of the responsibilities of being an NCO, they also carry the implied authorities of a commander, something they were not schooled in—that is until now.
On September 16 the USASMA kicked off a proof of principle Pre-Command Commandants Course designed to test the skills and knowledge of eight command sergeants major who currently hold the position of commandant in one of the Army’s 33 noncommissioned officer academies.
“As NCOs grow up in the Army they are given a lot of leadership opportunities and the opportunity to serve in a lot of different capacities – first sergeant, platoon sergeant, drill sergeant, and so on. But in every one of those roles with the exception of the squad leader, they are really not in the chain of command where they are the ones making all of the command-level decisions,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Rory Malloy, USASMA commandant. “However, as a commandant it is the first position, and probably the only duty position, in the Army where we ask a command sergeant major that has not been developed to do that kind of job to exercise their duties much like a commander. They have to manage a budget, they have to look at infractions of misconduct and what action they’re going to take with their recommendations; it carries a lot more power. So what we are trying to do is equip them with the tools and help them understand a lot of the limitations and expectations the position has.”
The course came about from issues that were happening within the Army in respects to NCO Academies, Malloy said. There had been some instances of misconduct that many believed were due to a lack of knowledge as to the duties, responsibilities and command authority of a commandant. Malloy himself noted his own lack of knowledge in assuming the duties as commandant of the Sergeants Major Academy and the issues he faced.
“I realized how tough the job was and there was really nothing out there that prepares us to take this job. We used to do commandants conferences where I would bring all the commandants in, but at the end of the day those were okay but we really didn’t get a lot out of them,” he said. “So last year we made the decision that commandants were not properly prepared to go into that leadership role and we needed to fix that.”
USASMA did an analysis of the training needs for commandants and realized there was a large gap in what command sergeants major were being taught at the pre-command course and what their duties and responsibilities would entail as a commandant, Malloy said. From there the staff in the Directorate of Training began the process of filling in that gap with a new course that would augment the pre-command course and give new commandants the tools they need to make sound command decisions.
“One of our main objectives here is to arm the [command sergeants major] with the tools that are necessary to be a successful enlisted commandant,” said Sgt. Maj. Jerry Bailey, USASMA’s Training, Development and Education sergeant major. “We took a list of tasks based on information provided by three mentors (sergeants major currently in commandant positions) we brought in and Command Sgt. Maj. Malloy. We took those tasks and we built lessons to get after what things an enlisted commandant can and cannot do. We want to educate them on their duties, responsibilities and command authority so as they go back out and do their commandant duties they have the tools that are necessary to be successful.”
Bailey said the course is designed on a learner-centric model using practical exercises that require group work and research to obtain the answers they need. Each group also shares their findings with the entire class in order to facilitate discussion.
The 40-hour, 5-day course covers 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.
“It would normally take us about a year to get this course going,” Bailey said. “We did this in about two months with a lot of folks who spent a lot of dedicated time to actually get it done. We stayed in contact with the three mentors throughout the two-month process talking to them once a week and we provided them with what we thought the product should look like, and they provided us the feedback. So the mentors played a big part in making sure this was ready to go.”
To further enhance the course curricula, USASMA enlisted the help of its legal assistant, Sgt. 1st Class Jason Burke, who helped to mold and shape the instruction on the authorities of an enlisted commandant and joint ethics.
“One of the big things that the commandant touched on in his introduction to the class is the authorities of a commandant. After a year and a half here Command Sgt. Maj. Malloy and I have come through a lot of instances where regulations don’t clearly define and don’t mention a commandant. It only defines a commander or nothing,” Burke said. “So we introduce them to what delegations of authority, what memorandums of agreement, those types of things are going to be required of a commandant to be able to function at their installation. So we want the students to have a take away of this is what I am going to need to get established so that when these things come up they are not behind the curve.”
In the joint ethics piece, Burke was able to bring realism to the course through the assistance of Fort Bliss military lawyers who were on standby to answer any questions the students might have when working through various scenarios.
“Joint ethics violations are the primary cause for release of command and release of commandants. So during the course we conduct about an hour overview of joint ethics and then each day [the students] have an ethics-based, real-world scenario that is based off of actual cases which they will decipher what is the problem, how can they fix it, and how can they prevent it in the future,” Burke said. “We also have a paralegal in each working group to work them through that discussion and they also have an attorney available to them by phone to get actual advice. So this mirrors as close as possible a real-world situation of how they should go through those ethical issues.”
Taking part in the proof of principle, Command Sgt. Maj. Cornelius Mack, commandant of the Alaska NCO Academy who has only been on the job for nine months, said the course was far more than he expected and wished he could have taken it prior to being selected to serve as a commandant.
“Understanding the authorities is the biggest thing that I am taking away from here. What the authority of a commandant really is. Understanding how to establish [memorandums of agreement and understanding] to ensure that you are covered,” he said. “You have a commander’s role in an O-6 (Colonel’s) billet, but you don’t have command authority. So understanding what that authority is and how to establish memorandums of agreement and understanding to give you the authority you need to function, not for power sake, but just for the natural ability to run the academy is huge.”
Mack also noted the joint ethics portion of the course as extremely valuable.
“Sharing the knowledge with commandants so they can understand what it is they can and cannot do, and things that can and cannot get them in trouble. As sergeants major we have experienced some of these things over the years but once you are put in this position of commandant or commander, it is your FRG, it’s your fundraiser, it’s your this team or that team. Having that understanding and privy to that knowledge is the second thing that was overwhelming,” Mack said. “This course is more than beneficial. If a new commandant only got the book they put together for pre-reading it would have been so much better, it would have put me so much farther ahead of the game. So yes, this course is extremely beneficial to a new commandant.”
Command Sgt. Maj. Mark Porrett, commandant of the NCO Academy in Hawaii and an 18-month veteran of the position, had similar sentiments about the new course.
“This is definitely a shared experience between new and some seasoned commandants looking at some of the trip wires and pitfalls out there that nothing has really prepared us for. We may have been in the Army 25 plus years, but this is the first time that we are the sole person responsible for an organization. So the shared experience within the room is important, something that you cannot get online through video tele-conferencing,” Porrett said. “We have got to have the shared experience and within this group we have commandants with less than a month’s experience to some of us with 18 months and even though I have been in the seat for a while, there are still things that I am taking back to better my academy.”
Porrett was particularly thankful for the opportunity to hear from Gen. Robert Cone, commanding general of Training and Doctrine Command and who addressed the class via VTC on Day 3 of the course.
“The thing that we got was a one-on-one with a senior leader who understands our position, understands what our pitfalls are, and he was able to relay his expectations and the down to earth of this is what you need to be doing,” Porrett said. “He talked about things we should not be doing and rarely does that ever happen. It was good for us [to have the opportunity].”
With the proof or principle complete, Malloy and his staff will now go back to the table and look at the course surveys, conduct an after action review and make needed adjustments to ensure the course is ready for launch.
“We gained a lot from this. The proof of principle and proof of concept, it proved we are definitely in the right ballpark and it will work. We are just missing a few subjects and some of the scenarios and exercises they did were a little too challenging, so we are going to add a little more education before they do the scenario and the final exam proved to be very challenging, so we are taking a look at whether or not we met all the objectives,” Malloy said. “With a little more refinement and a little more time we will be ready to execute the course probably in February. We are also going to bring in all the advance leader course and senior leader course new commandants as well. “
Malloy said that USASMA hopes to be able to conduct three to four iterations of the course per year, depending on demand and class load and estimates the class size will be between 20-30 students. Some of the course can be given in a large group seminar setting while exercises and scenarios need to be done more in a small group setting.
“The course met my expectations and in some ways it exceeded it for what we are trying to achieve with the commandants. It really challenged them and caused them to have to think critically and then we really got after some of the intellectual-level of thinking and discussion on a lot of critical topics that they are going to be challenged with as a commandant as they take over these new duties,” Malloy said. “The course itself by design, we knew it would be challenging and the feedback we received it was a great deal more challenging then we had anticipated. Not only the examination, the scenarios that we gave proved to be very challenging as well. I think the course definitely better prepares them. Most of these commandants have been in position between a year and two months and every one of them said that if they would have had this course prior to the first day they had to sit in the seat as commandant, they would have been far better prepared to execute their duties.”