Gentry bids USASMA farewell
July 1, 2009
- Col. Donald E. Gentry relinquished command of the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy in ceremonies June 29.
- He reflects on his accomplishments and the history being made naming a command sergeant major as the commandant.
When Col. Donald E. Gentry came to the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy in July 2007 to become the 18th commandant, he had no earthly idea as to what the academy was all about, nor did he know what his job would entail. He initially thought to himself, "how nice it would be to hand out diplomas to senior noncommissioned officers." He said it was an honor to be selected to come to the academy and command the pinnacle of the Noncommissioned Officer Education System; to give back to the Corps which had given him so much over the years.
"I wouldn't have made 28 years [in the Army] without great NCOs. There is no doubt that NCOs had shaped me; from [Soldiers like] my first platoon sergeant and my first section chief - Staff Sgt. Lick, 1st Sgt. Romero - who brought me in, trained me and showed me what an officer should do and what they needed an officer to do for them so that they could accomplish their mission," Gentry said. "Then to be able to give back - I was very excited about getting to come to do this."
Once here, Gentry quickly realized the relevancy and importance of the Academy to the Army and began establishing his vision and mission, one that would not only cement USASMA in the minds and hearts of those who would listen, but would also start a path of transformation from a an institution focused on training to one focused on education.
"I really didn't have a mission coming here. I was told you are going to be the sergeants major academy commandant. The only guidance I received at the time was make sure we maintain our international student program, and make sure the sergeant major course stays nine months," Gentry said. "So the first thing I wanted to do was make sure more people knew about USASMA; that it is important that people understand everything that goes on here. So I worked very hard to make it visible to the Army, to make the academy, its role in NCOES, visible."
Besides getting USASMA out front in the hearts and minds of the Army, Gentry also set his sights on transforming the academy from an institution focused on training doctrine, to one that educates Soldiers to become adaptive, creative and agile thinkers.
"We looked very hard at what we were teaching and how we were educating our NCOs and we came to the agreement that we just weren't on the cutting edge; we had not changed with the Army; that much of what we were still teaching was dated; our doctrine was dated," he said. "So we were still teaching doctrine and as FM 3-0 came out, our doctrine changed, and as we looked at how the Army was progressing and understanding what NCOs are doing in combat today, we realized that we needed to transform from a military organization to an academic institution. We needed to begin the process of educating NCOs from sergeant to sergeant major and help them learn how to become critical thinkers, creative thinkers, adaptive and agile leaders and teach them how to think not what to think."
In that realization came a redesign of the Sergeants Major Course, increasing the seats and frequency of the Nonresident Sergeants Major Course, taking BNCOC common core and making it a distance learning objective, developing and implementing structured self development courses, reorganizing the staff and faculty of USASMA to reflect an academic institution, improving technology based instruction and more.
"We began the reorganization of the academy to an academic institution, and we have reset every one of our programs of instruction to include education," he said. "What I feel is our biggest accomplishment at the academy, is bringing about a sense of change; understanding that change is necessary to remain relevant in the world; and the ownership, of this, the true internalization of what we do by the staff and faculty of the academy. That it is more than just teaching these courses; what we do expands beyond that."
During his tenure as the commandant, Gentry helped to establish the International Military Student hall of Fame, dedicated the Sergeants Major Chapel, and kicked off the first International Strength in Diversity Expo. He also saw 769 Soldiers frocked to sergeant major and command sergeant major, 1,310 Sergeants Major Course, 1,219 Sergeants Major Nonresident Course, 706 Battlestaff NCO Course, 1,686 SNCOC VTT, 538 First Sergeant Course, 1,754 FSC VTT, 17,349 Basic NCO Course VTT, and 209 Senior Leader Development Course students graduate.
His last official business, to hand over the command of the academy to the first enlisted Soldier to be awarded that post - Command Sgt. Maj. Raymond Chandler.
"Command Sgt. Maj. Ray Chandler has run this academy. I have had the privilege of commanding it, but he has been the catalyst in most of this, and if there is anybody in this Army that can take the academy to the next level it is he. I will tell you in transition the sergeant major [whom] I have met; the Soldier, the single Soldier I have ever met that is the most capable and ready to take this mission is Command Sgt. Maj. Ray Chandler. He has the breadth of experience, broad and different assignments, great leadership style, very articulate, understands the complexities of budget, the TRADOC educational system; there is nobody I would rather turn this academy over to," Gentry said. "Handing the academy over to a command sergeant major is evident of just how far NCOs have come in the Army. My father was the commandant of an NCO academy when he was a captain at Fort Sill Oklahoma, and we changed that back some years ago where those organization that were executing training, we put command sergeants majors in charge. And now this very dynamic and diverse organization that is not only responsible for the execution of training, but for the planning, development, funding, and resourcing of all NCOES; for NCOs to be able to take that on and be fully capable to do that is just evident as to how far we have come."
As being the last of his breed, an officer commanding USASMA, Gentry said it plays no real part in history.
"I am not sure that is a place in history because the last guy is the last guy, and 10 years from now somebody will figure it out that he was the last one and then it is 'What did he do for them to decide they didn't need him anymore'' Just to be part of this is exciting. This is my fifth command and usually that event is about the command and the commander and all they accomplished. This one is not about that - it is about the command and what it has accomplished - but more importantly where it is going. This event and the future of the academy is the focus for this and it is so right to happen in the year of the NCO, and so right for it to be that way. It saddens me a little bit to be leaving but it is so exciting to see where the Academy is going. So the place in history is reserved for Ray Chandler.
Col. Gentry leaves the academy to become the Senior Advisor to the Texas National Guard Adjutant General.