SALIMA, Malawi - The U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy has hosted international students since August 1975. In 2012, one of those students, a Malawi Defence Force senior noncommissioned officer, returned to his unit and stressed the importance of the course to his commander. A year later he met U.S. Army Sgt. Maj. Jerryn D. McCarroll, a recent USASMA graduate, who had been sent to Malawi to assist the MDF develop a pilot senior NCO course.

McCarroll, currently serving as security cooperation division sergeant major for U.S. Army Africa, is back in Malawi for Southern Accord 2016, a USARAF-led annual, combined military exercise to improve readiness, promote interoperability, build capacity and strengthen partner relationships between U.S. and Southern African nations. Additionally, SA16 provided McCarroll an opportunity to visit with his previous students and department of training leadership as the academy prepares for its fifth iteration of the course.

"Any chance I get, I'll come down for whatever the mission dictates, but I'll also try to find an opportunity to at least sit down and talk to instructors and try to get their concerns to help those guys out," McCarroll said.

"That [relationship] is really important for me to maintain because right now I am in a mentorship role," He added. "I've seen them grow from the first time they got on the podium up until now."

The mentorship role McCarroll referred to was the final step in a three-step process he began as a course instructor. In this step, course mentors return to observe newly trained MDF instructors and provide guidance when needed.

Six of the top students from the course's first class were chosen to be instructors. As the course's distinguished honor graduate, Lt. Linda Chikondi was the top choice amongst her peers.

"Not only being the first instructor, but being honored to be the best out of 27, that was a great accomplishment," said Chikondi, who is now the course commanding officer.

Chikondi said she is no stranger to "firsts". She joined the MDF in 1999 when the first groups of women were allowed into her nation's military. Even with an extensive career and accomplishments, she said the course empowered her to speak her mind and approach challenges more than she had before.

"It has benefited us a lot, the fact that we can acquire the skills of how to teach, mentor and coach our subordinates, but also be able to advise our commanders," Chikondi said. "Also, I am able to pass on the knowledge that I gained there where ever I am."

After being an instructor, Chikondi was chosen to commission and said she still uses what she learned in the sergeant major's course as an officer.

McCarroll said he is proud of the progress he's seen, not only in students like Chikondi, but also in the way NCOs are being utilized now that the course has shown the importance of an "empowered" senior NCO.

"I talk to the NCOs and say, 'You know Rome wasn't built in a day so don't expect change,'" McCarroll said. "It takes time, but the best thing they can do is develop that relationship with their subordinates, earn that trust with their superiors, and be the best NCO they can be. Take what they learn from the class and by all means be that NCO of character."

In the future, McCarroll hopes to see the course continue to expand its borders, as it now hosts students from eight regional nations and two additional Eastern African countries.

"I'm honored to be a part of the building of this senior enlisted sergeant major's course," McCarroll said. "I think the opportunity to be a part of revolutionizing a military's NCO corps has probably been the highlight of my military career."

The upcoming course, scheduled to begin shortly after the SA16 closing ceremony, the course commander had some advice for incoming students.

Chikondi provided students of the upcoming course, scheduled to begin shortly after the SA16 closing ceremony, with advice on the importance of shared knowledge.

"It's very important for [NCOs] to have an open mind and open eyes so that they see and acquire the knowledge and make use of it, but above all be ready to share the knowledge," Chikondi said.