USASMA gathers 13 graduates to discuss SMC, NCOES

FORT BLISS, Texas, (Army News Service, Nov. 20, 2007) -- Enlisted Soldiers are facing different responsibilities and filling critical leadership roles earlier in their careers on today's ever-changing battlefields.

In a proactive attempt to prepare noncommissioned officers for those shifts and differences, the NCO Education System is examining and initiating changes to when, how and at what level NCOs receive certain training. Who better to brainstorm some of those changes than operationally experienced sergeants major, and where better for them to do that than at the pinnacle institution of NCO education - the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy ...

USASMA, home to the Sergeants Major Course and the Training and Doctrine Command's lead for NCOES, gathered a group of course graduates - 12 sergeants major and one Air Force senior master sergeant - at the academy for more than a week in early November to review and discuss the common tasks addressed in the course.

The 13 senior enlisted leaders graduated from Class 55 and 56 of the nine month Sergeants Major Course, which according to academy officials is a task-based, performance-oriented, scenario driven course designed to provide the Army and other branches of U.S. and international militaries, with competent, confident senior NCOs who are better able to serve in a force projection environment.

When forming the group, the academy asked for SMC graduates from a variety of backgrounds in combat arms and combat support/service support fields, who have operational experience and have recently been deployed, said group member Sgt. Maj. Anna Quinones, chief clinical sergeant major, 3rd Medical Command, Fort Gillem, Ga.

"The Army is always changing, and the way to find out how it's changing is to get groups of peers together like this to see how the changes are affecting certain areas and operations," said group member Sgt. Maj. Archie Remos, J6 senior enlisted advisor, North American Aerospace Defense Command, U.S. Northern Command. "I threw my name in the hat for this group because I wanted to be a part of the process of change when it came to NCOES - specifically the [SMC]."

According to its members, the group was charged with defining what a sergeant major is and reviewing the sergeant major critical task list that Gen. William Wallace, Training and Doctrine Command commanding general, put into effect in 2006, but the group was not given the SMC current curriculum or program of instruction.

"We weren't supposed to know what was being taught currently in [Class 58] ... we were supposed to base our discussions on the critical task list and on our own experiences from when we came through the course ... and then went back out in the field," said group member Sgt. Maj. Eric Wilson, Ranger Training Brigade, Fort Benning, Ga.

"We looked at each task to determine if it should stay in the [SMC], be pushed to distance learning, or be dropped to a lower level of NCOES, and we restated some verbiage of tasks to make them more applicable to today's battlefield," he explained. "We also [indentified] tasks that needed to be added to the list ... or expanded on if they are already on the list."

The group emphasized that the discussions were not geared toward getting rid of any tasks, but rather at rethinking where each task should fall in accordance with the broader shifts taking place in the NCOES.

"It's our understanding that the way ahead for NCOES is in increasing the level of complexity earlier in a Soldier's career," Wilson said.

Remos added, "The idea is also that by the time [a Soldier] reaches sergeant major he will have received an adequate level of military education - making him more successful [at USASMA] and in today's operational Army."

Similar themes resonated throughout the discussions, but by dividing the group into smaller groups based on combat arms and combat support/service support fields, the brainstorming also generated different perspectives on some tasks, reflecting each participant's distinct experiences.

Remos suggested an increase focus on joint operations and said, "the military is more and more joint oriented - if you look at the officer side of the house, they receive additional training just to become joint certified ... this [common task] needs to receive more in-depth attention in [NCO education]."

Like Remos, the other members drew from their own memories of the course, and said they weren't necessarily implying that particular tasks are not addressed in the course, rather that certain tasks should receive more attention, Wilson said.

"I can barely remember the counterinsurgency training from Class 55," Wilson added. "That's exactly what we are fighting today ... so, I think we need to add more of it into our [NCO education]."

Quinones referenced her medical background and said, "We need to pay more attention and increase awareness when it comes to mental illnesses related to service in different theaters."

After reviewing and discussing each task, the group came up with many suggestions and recommendations to add to the resources that the NCOES may opt to employ when making future changes in enlisted education.

"Discussions like these really are important, not just for this course, but for the entire NCO Corps," Wilson said. "If we're going to push certain NCO training down to lower levels in our education system, we've got to start somewhere ... the Sergeants Major Course is the top."