NCOs attend Fort Bliss course - via Germany
12th Combat Aviation Brigade senior NCO graduates of the first sergeant course pose for a class photo with the course's assistant instructors and V Corps Command Sgt. Maj. Ralph Beam (first row, center, directly in front of U.S. flag) and course cadre. Thanks to video teleconferencing technology, the NCOs attended the Fort Bliss, Texas, course without leaving their home station at Katterbach Army Airfield in Ansbach, Germany.

KATTERBACH ARMY AIRFIELD, ANSBACH, Germany -- How do you get adequate training for leaders in a unit with an extremely high operational tempo that is preparing to deploy' One such unit -- V Corps' 12th Combat Aviation Brigade -- turned to high technology for the answer.

Eleven 12th CAB senior NCOs became the first in a program to help solve that problem when they attended the Army's 1st Sergeant Course using video teleconference facilities right in their home community.

The idea is nothing new. Soldiers in the European theater have attended the same long-distance training in Vilseck, Germany for years. Through video teleconference, the Soldiers are able to participate in classroom discussions just as if they were attending resident classes at the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy at Fort Bliss, Texas. The students even have cadre members locally to give them extra attention when the cameras are off.

Traveling to Vilseck, however, means a first sergeant student has to spend considerable time away from his company, his Soldiers, his community and his family. With a 15-month deployment looming, that's time that most 12th CAB first sergeants can ill afford to be gone from home station.

12th CAB Command Sgt. Maj. Hector Marin says he recognized the benefits of training without leaving home from day one.

"Being able to do home-station training based on our current situation is unique," Marin said. "All the Soldiers in this training are full-time first sergeants, or (they) will soon be rear detachment first sergeants, and right now their time is crucial."

1st Sgt. Dan Thomas, the senior instructor for the local course, said managing the training was not without its challenges.

"The time difference is difficult," Thomas said. "Our duty day starts at two in the afternoon, and we go until midnight or one in the morning."

"In addition to the time at the course, most of them go in to their units at around seven in the morning to take care of business and tighten things up," he said.

Despite the long days and the occasional technical glitch, the 12th CAB Soldiers proved "moonlighting" a course at this level could be done -- and done well.

Three of the graduating first sergeants found their way to the top 20 percent of 125 Soldiers from around the Army attending the same course.

1st Sgt. Philip Paniagua of the 12th CAB's 5th Battalion, 158th Aviation, was one of those three distinguished grads.

"It was just as effective as attending the course at Fort Bliss," Paniagua said.

"In fact, it was better, because it was strictly curriculum. Instead of being tasked with other duties at the academy, we spent our time getting our own Soldiers ready for the deployment."

"It allows us to spend more time with our families prior to deployment and still complete the course," he said. "I've seen situations where a Soldier is gone to a school for at least a month and then immediately deployed."

"We validated what (the Army Training and Doctrine Command) has told everyone, that 'They will bring the training to the unit'. This allowed the unit to build their training schedule around the course," said V Corps Command Sgt. Maj. Ralph Beam.

"The important 'take-away' on this course is that it was administered by the unit's senior NCOs and executed to -- and in some cases exceeding -- the (Army's) standards," the sergeant major added.

While local training via teleconference may not be ready to fully replace resident schooling, Thomas insists the 12th CAB's latest first sergeant course graduates are not just a test case.

"I think we're breaking ground for doing it this way," he said. "I'm trying to make this the first of many."

(Sgt. 1st Class Chris Seaton is a member of the 12th Combat Aviation Brigade Public Affairs Office)

Page last updated Thu May 24th, 2007 at 05:25