FORT BLISS, Texas - The U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy made history June 20 by graduating 442 senior noncommissioned officers from Sergeants Major Nonresident Course Class 1-08 in the morning and then welcoming 337 more senior NCOs to Class 2-08 later that evening.

Academy staff and faculty, distinguished visitors, families and friends filled USASMA's East Auditorium for the morning graduation, and as Class 1-08 graduates departed El Paso following the ceremony to return to their units, Class 2-08's incoming students gathered at the Centennial Club to meet and get to know each other.

Despite the decades worth of SMNRC classes that have graduated USASMA, this is the first year the academy has opened its doors to two classes back-to-back, which, according to academy officials, was done to accommodate the record number of senior NCOs waiting to attend the two-week long resident phase of the training.

USASMA created the nonresident course in 1974 to provide critical training to service members who are unable to leave their civilian careers or mission requirements to attend the nine-month long resident course.

Senior NCOs from throughout the Army travel to USASMA for the SMNRC resident phase after completing the course's two-year long distance learning phase. When combined, these two phases are intended to parallel the nine month resident version of the Sergeants Major Course, said Sgt. Maj. Leo Adams Jr., the chief instructor of SMNRC.

According to the course training schedule, students interact and learn from each others' experiences, during the resident phase, while receive training in everything from combating terrorism and national security affairs to communication and leadership skills, all culminating in a concentrated command post exercise.

For Class 1-08 students, the majority of whom are Reserve or National Guard Soldiers, the June 20 graduation marked the official end of this senior enlisted training designed to prepare them for the responsibilities awaiting them as sergeants major.

Before formally congratulating Class 1-08, Col. Donald Gentry, USASMA commandant, joined a representative from the Armed Forces Committee of the El Paso Chamber of Commerce, in presenting the class scroll in appreciation of the academy's contributions to the community. Class 1-08's scroll will hang with previous class scrolls in the academy halls. Each graduate receives a personal copy.

While Gentry congratulated and applauded the graduates' accomplishments, he also recognized the family members in the audience, emphasizing the critical role they've played in making those accomplishments possible.

"All the hard work you've put into this course over the past few years, and this is it ... you're almost done!" he said, raising a loud, "Hooah!" from the crowd.

Guest speaker Command Sgt. Maj. George L. Nieves, U.S. Army North command sergeant major, also applauded the senior NCOs, and his words to the graduates rang of appreciation for their continued selfless service.

Nieves shared recent poll results that reflect Americans' confidence and trust in the military but said, "Despite these results, less than one out of every 10 Americans is serving or has served [in uniform] ... I thank each of [today's graduates] for being that one."

He added that although more than 94 percent of both Class 1-08 and Class 2-08 are Reserve and National Guard Soldiers, the fact that nearly 80 percent of both classes' students have deployed at least once, some as many as five times during their careers, proves that they are far from "inactive."

Nieves also applauded the positive example the graduates reflect regarding civilian education - "More than 84 percent of [Class 1-08] has some form of college degree, and many have achieved a Bachelors or higher."

Following his words, Nieves joined the USASMA command group in personally congratulating the graduates as they walked across the stage and received their diplomas, a moment Class 2-08 graduates will also experience during a similar ceremony scheduled for July 2.

Senior NCOs play a critical role in our force's success, Gentry said. "The more of them we can get trained and back out to the fight, the better - as they graduate, I'm confident that they are ready for the roles that await them."

Page last updated Mon June 23rd, 2008 at 14:23