By David Crozier, Command CommunicationsNovember 4, 2015
For every educational or training course the Army teaches, there has to be a first class. On Nov. 2, the 32 students of the first Master Leader Course 15-day pilot class completed the 108 hours of rigorous coursework and received their diplomas during ceremonies held at the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy's Cooper Lecture Center.
Command Sgt. Maj. Dennis Defreese, commandant of USASMA, addressed the graduating students and asked them if the course was challenging, to which he received a rousing "Hooah." He followed that with, "Was it too challenging?" to which he got only a couple of hooahs.
"We wanted this to be challenging, right to that line," Defreese said. "We never want anyone to fail. That is not the goal. The goal is to learn something. … The goal is to help you learn how to critically think and solve problems."
Defreese said that one year ago, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Dan Dailey called the academy and said then-Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno wanted an E-8 level course, and he wanted it quickly -- how long will it take?
"So the answer is, about one year, that's how long it takes and the nonresident version of this may take until next summer to get it done because that takes even longer to do," he said. Defreese lauded the students for being the first, putting up with the long academic days and for providing their comments and feedback.
"The feedback we get from you is absolutely vital to the second pilot we are going to run in Utah," Defreese said. "From there, we will do a little bit more refinement and do the final pilot at the reserve center at Fort Knox and then sometime in fiscal year 17 it will be a totally vetted (intermediate operating capability). So you are an integral part of that and it should be something that you are proud of."
Charles Guyette, director of the Directorate of Training, lauded the efforts of the training developers and staff who put the course together.
"When the chief of staff and the Army leaders say, 'Hey go out and make this thing happen,' and I turn to you guys, and you put all this effort to it, and it comes to fruition today after these 15 grueling days of academia that we had to put these Soldiers through, the outcome is fully credited to you," he said.
Asked what he thought about the creation of the Master Leaders Course, graduate 1st Sgt. Thomas Hughes of the Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Armored Division, said he thought it was the right move.
"I personally haven't been to an NCO professional development course since 2007. That's eight years," he said. "So I think there is tremendous value-added to have a Master Leader Course that bridges the gap between the Senior Leader Course and the Sergeants Major Course."
Hughes noted the course's rigor and tight schedule, but also said he believed that if he had attended the course earlier in his career, he would have been a more successful senior NCO.
"I believe this course really sets up a senior sergeant first class promotable or master sergeant who is going to go onto a staff, to assist more than anything," Hughes said. "We briefly covered a lot of the stuff a first sergeant would do, but as a first sergeant, you still need to understand what (occurs) on a staff so you know how your company will be required to support whatever decisive action that you will be engaging in."
Fellow graduate Master Sgt. John Itzin, the senior operations NCO at the Army Reserve Readiness Training Center at Fort Knox, Kentucky, who will be one of the instructors for the third pilot class, said the course is a little more oriented toward staff functions than first sergeant duties, and he believes it is on target.
"Being able to integrate ourselves onto a staff and be more valuable to the commander and other staff officers is something NCOs really need to be cognizant of. The ability to be able to be brought back in and have a more meaningful role is very important," he said. "As a promotable sergeant first class, being able to back off from that tactical outlook of task management, and to step back and get the big picture is something that is brought into this course. I think that is very valuable because that is one area that I struggled with when I was that promotable sergeant first class going into my first staff position."
The 108 hours of instruction are broken down into three modules -- Foundation, Leadership and Army Profession, and Army and Joint Operation, said Sgt. Maj. William Gentry, the Curriculum Development and Education Division sergeant major.
"It provides the Army with senior noncommissioned officers who are self-aware and NCOs of character, confidence and presence with the skills necessary to shape the joint operational environment, overcome the friction created by uncertainty and operate in an ambiguous environment," he said. "So I believe this course is geared for the sergeants first class and the newly promoted master sergeants to enable them to perform the duties of a senior staff NCO or operations master sergeant in the S3. The course will give them the confidence to go into that staff role, with the education and institutional knowledge to be a productive member of a senior staff."
The first pilot class was taught using two different instructional strategies -- one using essay assessments, and the other using a research project that enhances the collaboration between the students. Gentry said the educational outcomes from those two strategies will determine the way ahead for the next two pilot classes.
"The desired outcome is an operational leader that has the talent, ability and confidence in himself or herself to be a creative and critical thinker; to not just worry about beans and bullets, but to actually be able to think on line with that company commander or that field grade officer on the staff," Gentry said. "Right now, I give this course two thumbs up. Because it is only going to get better from here. When the students tell me they wish they had known this stuff three or four years ago and they are excited about what they know now, we are hitting the mark."
The Master Leader Course consists of topics such as Army and Joint Doctrine; Interagency Capabilities and Considerations; Plans, Orders and Annexes; Decisive Action; Military Justice Rules and Procedures; Command Inspection program; Servant leadership; Personnel Readiness; Military Decision Making Process; Public Speaking; Military Briefings and Writing.
The MLC has been specifically designed to prepare sergeants first class for the increased leadership and management responsibilities required of all senior NCOs. The course is the fourth of five NCO Professional Development Courses beginning with the Basic Leader Course and culminating with the Sergeants Major Course. The makeup of the first pilot class consisted of 32 individually selected regular Army, National Guard and Reserve component professional NCOs from a wide range of career management fields.