What is the Sergeants Major Course

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By CSM Gary Coleman, Course Director

The Army’s culminating enlisted Professional Military Education course is the Sergeants Major Course. The course is designed around the university model that educates senior enlisted leaders from our Army, sister services, and allied militaries to be agile and adaptive senior noncommissioned officers through the study of leadership, conduct of Unified Land Operations, and the application of Joint, Interagency, Intergovernmental and multi-national organizations in an era of persistent conflict and beyond. The SMC is the consummate of enlisted professional military education that prepares sergeants major to be the critical and creative thinkers that can execute at all command levels throughout the Department of Defense.

The course provides tools to develop critical reasoning, creative thinking and decision-making skills to help the sergeants majors advise senior leaders and commanders. Students 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 students experience a curriculum-filled five-day week that includes professional lectures and strategic level briefings from the leaders across the Department of Defense and academia. Additionally, students have the opportunity to attain or complete a college degree from the 22 universities that support the course. This year’s class completed 79 master’s degrees, 183 bachelor’s degrees and 56 their associate degrees.

Throughout the course, students are presented with comprehensive exams in each semester. The first exam, “closed book”, is administered after the first half of each semester with the second exam, “scenario based”, administered at the end of each semester. Furthermore, students are required to write multiple APA style papers, participate in a national security briefing, develop an operational art and design research project, and conduct numerous presentations. The course culminates with a comprehensive End of Course exam that measures the students understanding of our Army and the multiple roles of the Sergeant Major.

The SMC consist of five departments which students rotate through by semesters. These departments, which include an orientation phase at the start of the course, focus on command leadership, military history, Army operations, mission command, unified land operations, and joint, interagency, intergovernmental, multinational organization operations. Each department consists of a team of subject matter experts made up of seasoned sergeants major from all three components of the Army, and senior enlisted leaders from sister services, along with civilian associate professors who prepare master sergeants and sergeants major to elevate from a tactical level of thinking to an operational and strategic perspective. What the students learn prepares them for their roles in battalion, brigade, and division through echelons-above-corps or staff command levels. The joint perspective is enhanced through the attendance of students from the Navy, Air Force, Marines, and the Coast Guard as well as international partners.

This Professional Military Education is provided by leveraging both resident and distributive learning educational methods and technologies. The SMC is responsible for delivering three courses; the Sergeants Major Course, a 10-month long resident course containing a total of 1,484.7 instructional hours; the Sergeants Major-Nonresident Course, a 18- to 24-month long course delivered through the distributed learning method culminating with a two-week resident course of instruction at the Academy; and the 10-week International Pre-course which prepares our international students to successfully navigate the SMC.

Command Leadership
Instruction in the Department of Command Leadership focuses on the attributes and competencies required of an operational and strategic level leader in today’s Armed Forces. When a Noncommissioned Officer becomes a Sergeant Major, their span of control decreases, however their sphere of influence increases significantly. The curriculum in this department is designed to enhance individual critical and creative thinking skills so the students can effectively maximize their influence and extend it beyond their chain of command to support the mission and goals of their organization.SMC
Students use a blend of military and civilian case studies to critically analyze contemporary and historical leadership issues. This method expands their leadership perspective in order to gain a greater understanding of the challenges they will face as sergeants major in today’s operational environment. Students are also taught to use the mission command framework of understand, visualize, describe, direct, lead, and assess. This enables them to speak the same language as their officer counterparts so they can provide timely and relevant input and advice when confronted with the operational- and strategic-level issues and complexities of leadership.

Students in the DCL will receive Master Resilience Trainer instruction and examine the factors of resiliency and their link to Army Doctrine and Comprehensive Soldier Fitness. They research the core concepts of Positive Psychology and Resiliency with the focus of learning how to develop themselves as resilient leaders. This lesson is based on a holistic program focused on developing the five dimensions of individual strength – physical, emotional, social, spiritual and family. Gaining a greater understanding of these five dimensions provides sergeants major the tools necessary to help develop an Army of balanced, healthy, self-confident Soldiers, family members and Army civilians whose resilience and total fitness enables them to excel in an era of high operational tempo and persistent conflict. As a result of this information, students will gain further self-awareness and insights concerning their own resiliency and the positive impact of resilient leaders on organizations. All graduates receive the additional skill identifier “8R” for Master Resilience Trainer instructors.

Military History
The students in the Department of Military History examine and analyze the evolving roles, duties and responsibilities of the NCO spanning more than 200 years of American history from the mid 1700s to present. Students look at the concept of continuity and change in the role of the NCO over time as well as the factors that account for these changes which form the foundation of the curriculum designed to promote “historical mindedness” for the future sergeants majors in our Army.

The DMH curriculum is episodic in nature. It seeks to integrate themes relevant for today’s joint warfighter and place them in historical context. Course themes include an ever-increasing role of the NCO on the battlefield, the impact of new technologies, previous Army transformation efforts, insurgency and counterinsurgency operations by the British, French, U.S. Armies, and lastly, combat and ethical leadership.

Students analyze the European way of war, practiced by the British Army in the 17th and 18th centuries. They study European tactics, techniques and procedures against the Native Americans and how attempting to apply previous experiences to solutions in the past, to conditions that were fundamentally different. Students also study the Mexican American and the American Civil War, the technological changes that occurred in the years between the end of the Mexican War and the outbreak of the Civil War, and changing tactics and technology in weapons on the battlefield and how it affected doctrine.

Students examine experiences of the American Soldier and how the roles duties and responsibilities of the NCO during WWI evolved due to the changing nature of warfare. Students examine WWII and the process of transformation, Vietnam and the dilemma confronting Soldiers waging counterinsurgency operations, and lastly, operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and the evolution of the NCO corps. At the completion of the semester students have a better understanding of the major factors that shaped doctrine, as well as the evolving roles, duties and responsibilities of the NCO.

Army Operations
The students in the Department of Army Operations study the central concept of Unified Land Operations – Army units seize, retain, and exploit the initiative to gain and maintain a position of relative advantage in sustained land operations to create conditions for favorable conflict resolution. Based on this concept, the DAO curriculum has four major areas: doctrine, mission command, decisive action, and operational art. The students explore ULO with a solid foundation of doctrine. The road to 2015 and 2020 are fast moving vehicles and understanding the changes in doctrine and the way forward, sets the conditions for the student to comprehend the philosophy and warfighting function of mission command.

The students study mission command first which allows them to apply the principles of mission command to the rest of their studies. Mission command is the way that commanders drive the operations process. In order to best support the commander, the operations SGM must comprehend the commander’s activities of understand, visualize, describe, direct, lead, and assess and be able to effectively use their staff to provide the knowledge and data which supports these actions.

The student’s study of decisive action is the bridge between mission command and operation art. The student broadens their understanding of offensive, defensive, and stability operations and the defense support of civil authorities though the use of practical exercises and automation. The use of the Command Post of the Future is the primary tool utilized within the DAO to enhance the learning experience. CPOF is a computer program which enables the planning process and facilitates collaboration. Students gain a complete understanding of the capabilities of CPOF and how it can best support the mission, staff, and commander.

Operational art is the pursuit of strategic objectives, in whole or in part, through the arrangement of tactical actions in time, space, and purpose. The students explore operational art using the Army Design Methodology. The ADM is the conceptual planning accomplished prior to the detailed planning of the Military Decision Making Process. Through the study of the ADM, the students frame the operational environment; identify the right problem; and establish an operational approach. The students tie this learning to the commander’s needs of understanding, visualizing and describing to produce products that their staffs can use for the detailed planning of the MDMP. Finally, the students bring all of their knowledge together with the use of the MDMP and the application of the principles of the operations process.

Force Management
The Department of Force Management’s objective is to educate and analyze the “how to” and “why” of determining force requirements and alternative means of resourcing Soldier training requirements in order to accomplish Army functions and missions as related to their unit and Army Command-level management positions.

This department provides a systemic overview of “How the Army Runs.” Students learn the constitutional, statutory and regulatory basis for the force projection Army and the capabilities that must be sustained through management of doctrinal, organizational, and material change. They become familiar with organizational roles, functions and missions especially at the command and secretariat/staff levels.

DFM students are also introduced to:

  • Established force management processes; from the determination of force requirements to the resourcing of those requirements and the assessment of their utilization in order to accomplish functions and missions.
  • Command Post of the future to prepare unit training and deployment documents, and then conduct a formal briefing using the materials created.
  • The Fort Bliss Arrival/Departure Airfield Control Group to observe firsthand how installation airfields deploy Soldiers and equipment to support theater requirements.
  • Contracting and budget regulations and guidelines to support Army operations.
  • Army and joint logistics and sustainment systems.

At the completion of the semester a successful student is able to define the roles that sergeants major have in the force management process at all levels.

Joint, Interagency, Intergovernmental, Multi-National Operations
The Department of Joint Interagency, Intergovernmental, and Multinational is an integral part of the Sergeants Major Course foundation for Joint Professional Military Education. This semester addresses significant portions and objectives of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff training priorities. The DJIIM uses critical thinking, analysis, and problem-solving to explore the application of Joint doctrine. By applying these principles to a complex problem set, students develop an overarching perspective of leadership at the operational and strategic level.

During the first half of the semester, students are provided with techniques and methods in an academic setting conducive to the most advance understanding of strategic concepts, national military strategy, state department processes, joint services application, joint functions overview, irregular warfare, and the joint operational planning process. The second half of the semester culminates a 25-hour capstone Mission Readiness Exercise supported by a visit to the Joint Task Force North operating facilities.

Moreover, the DJIIM prepares students to work at the strategic level regardless of their next duty assignments. The overarching concept is to provide rigorous academic challenges and relevant experiences using state of the art systems such as Command Post of the Future and Army Battle Command Systems. Finally, the DJIIM’s deliberate student assessment strategies and department evaluations provide students with immediate feedback required to master each phase of the joint planning process.
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The Nonresident Course
In order to accommodate students who are unable to attend the Sergeants Major Course in residence, and to broaden the availability of training, the Army developed the Sergeants Major Non-Resident Course.

Each SMNRC class consists of senior NCO in the rank of master sergeant, first sergeant, sergeants major, and command sergeants major from the active Army, Army Reserve and National Guard.

The SMNRC is a 18- to 24-month program of instruction under the new design distance learning portion, Phase I, which must be completed within 18 months, and a two-week resident requirement at the Sergeant’s Major Academy, Phase II, conducted within 6 month after completion of Phase I. The curriculum parallels the Resident Sergeant’s Major Course and provides lessons with both self-graded and on-line graded requirements. Emphasis is on improving student communication skills with written and oral practical exercises, JIIM/DAT.

The Course of the Future
The USASMA continues to analyze and develop the role of the sergeant major and their PME needs. Course improvements slated for Class 65 and beyond include changing the Department of Military History to the Department of Training and Doctrine. This improvement keeps the senior enlisted course in line with the Army’s enterprising structure and the functional educational needs of sergeants major. The course will also see additional lessons incorporated into the Department of Force Management that will focus on garrison operations and absorb the nominative level Force Management course.

As we “Shape the Army of 2020”, the United States Army Sergeants Major Course will continue to be the consummate institution that prepares Sergeants Major to execute at all command levels throughout the Department of Defense.