ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. -- Command Sgt. Maj. Dennis Defreese, commandant, U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy, discussed his top initiatives while serving as the keynote speaker for the U.S. Army Sustainment Command's senior-level Commanding General's Leadership Professional Development training event, here, March 17.

Defreese discussed his plans for keeping non-commissioned officer education relevant. He focused his overview on the USASMA and the Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development System.

As the top academy for NCO's education, the USASMA's mission statement is, "To provide professional military education that develops enlisted leaders to meet the challenges of an increasingly complex world." NCOPDS is the framework of studies for NCOs, and it consists of several basic-level to senior-level courses.

"We are adapting the NCO professional development curriculum to support what the Army needs," he said. "We are not stagnating, we are continuing to update and develop for this 21st century complex world."

Defreese said that unlike other nations, the U.S. has an NCO corps with the expertise and leadership abilities to make significant decisions during operations.

"Our ability to be successful has historically been based on our ability to have decentralized operations," he said. "That is why it is important to continue education with the NCO corps now, so we can have that same capability."

Defreese also said it is important for civilian and military supervisors to understand how NCOs are developed.

"They have a lot of NCOs in their organizations," he said. "If they don't know those NCOs' full capabilities, they're not going to use them to their full potential."

He said understanding how NCOs are professionally developed is particularly important during a time of declining resources for the military.

"We want to utilize every resource we have because the Army is getting smaller -- everybody has to pull their weight," he said. "The civilians in here probably have NCOs who work for them, and they should know what they are getting. They should know how we are educating them, what they are coming in with: Their knowledge, skills and other attributes."

Defreese said one of the biggest changes he has already started to implement at his academy is eliminating multiple-choice testing to replace it with essay testing. He said this is for two reasons: Because he believes essay testing forces students to deeply understand course content, and because fewer students fail essay testing.

He also said the academy is building more partnerships with universities willing to give college credit for military courses. He said USASMA would not give degrees to graduates, but if a university requires minor changes in order to qualify courses for credit, he said he would support those changes.

Defreese talked about several of the courses and programs that tie into the academy's mission, including the Basic Leader Course, the Master Leader Course, the Sergeants Major Course, the Sergeants Major Non-resident Course, the Battle Staff NCO Course, the Spouse Leadership Development Course, the Commandant's Pre-command Course, the Military Personnel Exchange Program, and the USASMA Fellowship Program.

Overviews of these courses and programs are available on the USASMA's website: http://usasma.armylive.dodlive.mil/?page_id=2173.

Before the event, Defreese had lunch with nine other sergeants major stationed at Rock Island Arsenal.

The lunch attendees included: Command Sgt. Maj. Anthony Bryant, command sergeant major, ASC; Command Sgt. Maj. Myris Callwood, command sergeant major, Rock Island Garrison; Command Sgt. Maj. Sam Young, command sergeant major, U.S. First Army; and Command Sgt. Maj. Walton Jones, command sergeant major, Joint Munitions Command.

The group discussed the merits and challenges related to the new changes in NCO education programs.

Bryant said Defreese's visit added a lot to ASC's LPD program initiative.

"We've been trying to bring leaders from all walks of life, not just commissioned officers or civilians," he said. "We wanted a senior command sergeant major to talk about what is expected of sergeants major and NCOs."

Bryant said he appreciated the Defreese's presentation.

"I think it meant a lot, to me and to the general, for him to come and speak here," he said. "It was a great leader development class that gave us a larger vision of where we are going in the Army with our NCO corps."