After a ten-month hold, the new 17-day Warrior Leader Course program of instruction is at last set to go live Armywide on Oct. 1. Overhauled last year and originally scheduled to be implemented in January, the new course is designed to give new noncommissioned officers better tools to be effective junior leaders.

The new POI focuses more on administrative tasks and critical thinking skills that are inherent to leading Soldiers, and less on combat and tactical skills that are more of a unit responsibility.

Piloted last fall by the NCO academies at Fort Bliss, Texas, and Fort Richardson, Alaska, and taught only in these two locations since, the new course was a high priority as the proponent responsible for writing it, said Command Sgt. Maj. Raymond Chandler, commandant of the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy, Fort Bliss.

"This may surprise some people, but I think the most important product of this institution isn't the Sergeants Major Course, it's WLC," Chandler said. "That's where we are training the junior NCOs of tomorrow, the first-line leaders. That's their first exposure to learning the skills needed to lead Soldiers, and a tremendous responsibility for us."

To say the new course is eagerly awaited at other NCO academies would be an understatement.

"It's about time," said Command Sgt. Maj. Dean Keveles, commandant of the Fires Center of Excellence NCO Academy, Fort Sill, Okla. "In reality, we've been looking for the improvements for quite some time now. It's not that the old POI was bad; it's just that the new courseware is much better - everything from bringing back the written examinations, bringing back drill and ceremony and incorporating more effective military writing."

"The 17-day POI for our junior NCOs is an awesome product," said Command Sgt. Maj. Wesley Weygandt, commandant of the Sgt. 1st Class Christopher R. Brevard NCO Academy at Fort Richardson. "It creates an adaptive leader who is able to think through processes, which is a huge change in the mentality of how we trained Soldiers in the past. We're truly <i>educating</i> our Soldiers now; we're not just training them."

An All Army Activities message, ALARACT 214/2010 dated July 10, formally announced the implementation of the new 17-day POI, though reserve component NCO academies will initially teach the new content over 15 days. Indeed, the postponement of the course's Armywide start date was largely to allow course designers to create a schedule that would conform to the unique time requirements of the National Guard and Army Reserve.

"All components will start the new POI on Oct. 1. But, we had to make up a 15-day schedule and a 15-day version of the POI for the reserve component," said Master Sgt. Patrick Ciferri, the WLC course chief in the Directorate of Training, Doctrine and Education at USASMA. "It's the exact same material, just squeezed into 15 days."

"What we're trying to do is identical to what the active component is doing, and that is to get our Soldiers back home faster," said Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Ireland, command sergeant major of the U.S. Army Reserve Command G-3/7, Fort McPherson, Ga. "So, if we do it in 15 days, that gives us two days our Soldiers can be back with their families. It cuts down on our [temporary duty], our time away from home and time away from civilian employment, which is of great importance to both our Soldiers and their local communities."

With the new POI, both the active and reserve components will be teaching identical course material in the Warrior Leader Course - part of the One Army School System initiative.

"Because a lot of times we only see our Soldiers once a month, it takes us longer [to introduce new programs of instruction]. But, we are on track with the active component and will not languish behind on the implementation of this at all. We deploy together, we train together, we need to learn together the same way so we're all talking on the same sheet of music," Ireland said.

The course's new curriculum was designed around three modules - leadership, training and warfighting - and employs the adult learning model, encouraging classroom discussions, promoting peer-to-peer learning and providing more time for students to absorb the knowledge they learned during the day. Course designers and instructors alike say it treats students as the responsible leaders they are expected to be in their units.

"We've slowed down the pace just a little. But, we've made that good transition from a combat skills-centric skill set that we were giving them in the old POI, to those functional classes of NCO leadership in-garrison that we've neglected over the years," Weygandt said.

"It's training a level up," Keveles said. "In this POI, we're teaching skills that they'll probably use at the mid-grade NCO level, but we're teaching it to junior-grade NCOs. Giving them that exposure earlier in their career gives them a broader reference library in the back of their head. They'll feel less uncomfortable when pitted against [leadership] tasks in their organization."

The new course's design also puts less strain on the NCOs teaching it.

"The team put a lot of thought into lightening the load for the instructors," Ciferri said. "Instructors not only had to teach from early in the morning to 2100 at night, they also have counseling statements they have to do [for each student]. With no extra time, a lot of it came down to just 'checking the block' in the old course. The new course is designed to lighten that load and allow them time to be able to actually evaluate each individual Soldier as they should be."

"This is such a relief for my cadre; no one gives those guys the credit they deserve," Keveles said. "These guys burn themselves out, but come to work with a smile on their face and motivated so that the students don't see the pain of having to go home so late at night, get up early in the morning and not get to spend a whole lot of time with their own families. But now, a relief valve has been opened."

The end result, Weygandt said, is that the academies are graduating a better product - well-learned Soldiers who begin leading as soon as they return home.

"Graduates of the course are showing how this new [Physical Readiness Training] is supposed to look like. They're actually correcting their seniors in the Army writing style. They're assisting their peers, their subordinates and their supervisors with the NCOERs. We've lost the art of drill and ceremony; these individuals coming out of the course now are volunteering [to lead that]."

Despite the new course's implementation in October, Ciferri says other necessary revisions are in the works, but not on the scale of the current changeover, he is quick to point out.

"We will be adding resiliency training, which is going to replace our Junior Battlemind Principles lesson. We're also looking at adding battle-command training strategy - the VBS2 system - which is your virtual training like video gaming. Also, we'll be adjusting our counter-IED training. But, with no [additional time] authorized, something's going to have to be replaced. The counter-IED lesson alone is almost 10 hours' worth of class," he said.

Because there's only so much material designers are able to incorporate into the course, the new POI provides better feedback to graduating students so they may continue their education back home.

"The students get handed this packet on graduation day along with their [graduation certificate] that has everything they've done throughout the course - every evaluation, every counseling statement. It goes into that Soldier's hands to take back and read over to improve himself or herself. Instructors get just a quick, brief, short time to get to know these individuals, to understand how they perform. These evaluations are designed to help mold them after they leave."

"I tell this to my students all the time: In 17 days, we cannot create an instant leader," Weygandt said. "This 17-day course basically teaches them how to think through processes as a leader, and it gives them the tools to become a good leader. But, it is up to them to be a good leader. We hone their skills, show them the right way of doing things and show where to find information when faced with challenges in their units. Whether they're going to be a good NCO is up to them. But, by completing this course, they'll definitely be given the toolset to be successful in whatever it is they have to do."

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<i>Editor's note: For a closer look at the new course, see the November 2009 issue, available on the <a href="">NCO Journal website</a>, or <a href="">"Sergeant's Corner"</a> in the September 2010 issue.</i>

<i>To contact Michael L. Lewis, e-mail <a href=""></a>.</i>

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16