Twenty-five NCOs graduated from the inaugural cohort of the Benavidez Leader Development Program (BLDP) during a ceremony in the Thayer Award Room at West Point on Feb. 26.

Upon completion of the program, each graduate received a certificate in social organizational psychology which is accredited by Columbia University and can be used as a level of proficiency in leader development and change management.

Named after Medal of Honor recipient, the late Master Sgt. Roy P. Benavidez, the BLDP is an executive education leader development program designed to equip West Point's Cadet Company Tactical NCOs with techniques to assist in the development of cadets and soldiers.

For the past 11 years, the U.S. Military Academy has partnered with the United States' oldest and largest graduate school of education, Teachers College, Columbia University, for the Eisenhower Leader Development Program (ELDP) which prepares Company Tactical Officers (TACs) for their assignment as the legal commanders of companies within the Corps of Cadets. Similarly, the BLDP equips TAC NCOs with education experience comparable to that of their commissioned counterparts.

"This program was designed to give our tactical NCOs a world-class executive education in organizational leadership, to prepare them to better train and lead their cadet companies and enhance the overall effectiveness of their TAC teams," explained Command Sgt. Maj. David M. Clark, the U.S. Military Academy's senior enlisted leader. "This educational experience will also prepare them to excel when they return to the operational Army as future first sergeants, sergeants major and command sergeants major."

The BLDP's training regimen began with a week of ELDP graduates administering a course focused on leadership and history. For the following two weeks, program participants relocated to Columbia University where instructors from Teachers College taught courses in Leadership and Supervision; Executive Coaching; Organizational Psychology; and Group and Organizational Dynamics and Change. Included in the second phase were numerous enrichment activities such as visits to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, McGraw Hill Financial and the New York Police Department to enhance the classroom instruction.

"One thing that went exceptionally well was the executive coaching portion," course participant and Company G-4 TAC NCO, Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Brown said as he reflected on a key point of the BLDP. "It gave us a different perspective by forcing us to look at things from many different angles. We learned to tailor our conversations and focus on the problems."

Master Sgt. Johnny Merriweather, a course participant and TAC NCO for Company I-4, agreed.

"Initially, I thought it may have been something that would hinder me from achieving other goals that I was working toward," he said. "Once I actually started the course, I was just blown away by how much, as a senior leader, there is still for me to learn about leadership and leader development."

The Academy anticipates taking three years to reach its goal of having every assigned TAC NCO complete the program, which also awards 10 continuing education units accredited by the International Association for Continuing Education and Training.

"We could and should have been doing more to provide some commensurate experience for our irreplaceable noncommissioned officers who share the responsibility of being integrators of cadet development," said Col. Diane Ryan, Benavidez Leader Development Program Director and the U.S. Military Academy's Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership Deputy Department Head. "I hope that this program has provided the tools and inspiration for our TAC NCOs to bring their leader development skills to the next level both here at West Point and in subsequent assignments elsewhere in the Army."