FORT SHAFTER, Hawaii (Army News Service, Sept. 7, 2007) - Noncommissioned officer academies at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, and Fort Richardson, Alaska have been accredited as Institutions of Excellence by the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy. The honor is the highest level of accreditation the Army can award.
USASMA and the Training and Doctrine Command accredit NCO academies every three years to ensure Soldiers are receiving the best training possible. Of the Army's 28 NCO academies only two others have the distinction: Fort Lewis, Wash., and Fort Campbell, Ky.
More than 1,600 U.S. Soldiers - and about 50 international soldiers - attend NCOA-Hawaii yearly. Another 1,200 Soldiers take the warrior leader course at the NCO Academy at Fort Richardson every year. This month marks the first that foreign students are attending the course in Alaska.
USASMA inspects 16 areas during the accreditation process, and earning a perfect score isn't enough to receive the top honor, according to Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Thomas, commandant of the NCOA-Hawaii.
"You must get 100 percent in every area without one gig," he said. "A lot of academies get 100 percent, but as soon as you get one comment, you're out of the running.
"It's not so much our paperwork is straight and we have our act together as far as our standard operation procedures and the way we do business at the academy," Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas said. "To me, it's the extra things we do at this academy that no other academy in the United States Army does. That's why NCOA-Hawaii deserves this recognition."
For example, Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas said the NCOA-Hawaii is the only academy that has a fitness program geared toward overweight Soldiers as part of the warrior leader course. According to the Army, if a Soldier fails the body fat test twice, he or she will "marginally achieve the course standard."
"We took a proactive approach," Thomas said. "When they come in and don't meet Army height and weight standards, we give them a class on nutrition, we put them on a special high-protein, low-fat diet in the dining facility, we give them extra physical training, we assign them a battle buddy who monitors everything they eat and then we counsel them."
During the last year, 152 Soldiers have been put on the program, the average are four to eight percent over their body fat maximums. Under this program, 99 percent of the Soldiers went on to meet the Army standard by the end of the cycle.
1st Sgt. Wardell Jefferson, acting commandant of USARAK NCOA, also credits special programs and attention to students for their special distinction.
The USARAK NCOA is unique in its use of the "Engagement Skill 2000" 3-D training simulator, according to 1st Sgt. Jefferson. The system is incorporated into the WLC's basic rifle marksmanship training to add realism to the course's small arms instruction.
"We were the first location that the USASMA evaluator saw the ES 2000 being used for the warrior leader course basic rifle marksmanship instruction," he said, adding that the accreditation team was also impressed at the amount of individual attention students receive in counseling sessions.
Both schools also praised the hard work of their cadre and staff.
"We have instructors who go way above and beyond what's expected of them," said 1st Sgt. Jefferson. "They take their experiences as 1st line supervisors and apply those to relevant instruction their students can use. The cadre put in a lot of long hours - sometimes you work those without being noticed. So this just goes to show their hard work does pay off."
Staff Sgt. Edward Bower, senior small-group leader and escort of the accreditation team, said the award exemplifies what everyone does at the NCOA-Hawaii.
"A few people might have stepped up and did quality assurance, but every member of the cadre got checked on something," he said. "This is a great team and everybody works together. We weren't given this award; the academy went out and earned it."
(Sgt. 1st Class Jason Shepherd serves with the U.S. Army, Pacific, Public Affairs Office. Sgt. 1st Class Eric Reinhardt serves with the U.S. Army Alaska Public Affairs Office.)