FORT LEWIS, Wash. - Though instilling young NCOs with values and leadership traits can be satisfying for its own sake, the staff of a Fort Lewis academy said recent Armywide recognition of their hard work felt especially rewarding.

The U.S. Army Reserve Noncommissioned Officer Academy on post earned a rare distinction for its perfect score on an evaluation.

Training and Doctrine Command notified the academy last month of its designation as an "Institute of Excellence" for its 100-percent score on a December 2008 inspection.

The evaluation was part of a TRADOC accreditation program begun in 2005 to verify schools' administrative and education systems. The academy offers the Warrior Leader's Course and the Common Core Phase I of the Basic Noncommissioned Officer's Course for Reserve, National Guard as well as occasional active-component NCOs who spill over from its sister, the Henry Lind Academy next door.

"We've got combat, combat support, combat service support - all three," said Sgt. 1st Class Eric Peterson, the BNCOIC course manager of his students. "Because this is a common core course, both the warrior leader course and this portion of BNCOIC, it encompasses all MOSs. So it's non-MOS-specific."

The Institute-of-Excellence designation came at the end of the three-year tenure of the school's commandant, Command Sgt. Maj. Steven A. Villa, who worked to "ensure Soldiers were trained to standard" in both courses, according to Staff Sgt. Michelle Conrad, a small-group leader at the academy,

Villa gave up stewardship of the academy Feb. 18 to Command Sgt. Maj. Byron Doo, who promised to maintain the high standards of the academy as evidenced by the TRADOC award.

"There are four levels of accreditation implementing one standard for both Active and Reserve Components," according to a TRADOC release. "Level 1 is a candidate for accreditation and means the school has met less than 60 percent of the standards. A conditional candidate for accreditation is Level 2, having met 60 to 79 percent of the standards. Level 3 is full accreditation, where the schools have met 80 to 99 percent of the standards. Level 4 is considered an 'institute of excellence,' meeting 100 percent of the standards."

The inspection result represented a team effort, Peterson said, but much credit went to Sgt. 1st Class Greg Hilchey, the senior small-group leader who organized preparations in Peterson's absence. The course manager left for ANCOIC soon after TRADOC notified the academy of the impending inspection.

"This is the first time we've been inspected by TRADOC," Hilchey said. "Up until this inspection, we'd only been inspected by U.S. Army Sergeants Majors Academy, the proponent that governs the curriculum here."

TRADOC and USASMA double-teamed the academy with a joint evaluation of 23 areas of education and administration.

"They evaluated the education processes but also how we conduct business as a unit," Hilchey said. "It was a command inspection and educational certification as well - to maintain our certification as an academy."

Hilchey's first order of business was to request a November pre-inspection the month prior to the evaluation. The results signaled the work remaining to be done.

"When they did the pre-inspection we were at 40 percent, so we went from 40 to 100 percent within a month's time," Hilchey said. The senior group leader said the inspection result highlighted the school's outstanding mentorship program. Though small-group leaders are called instructors, the academy regards them as mentors for their students, modeling leadership methods and values while teaching classes.

Peterson succinctly summed up his estimation of Hilchey's work preparing for the inspection: "High praise. Very high praise."

Acing the evaluation for course accreditation pays dividends beyond recognition for the academy, according to TRADOC.

"It's important to that Soldier knowing the training he or she is receiving is current and relevant, incorporating the lessons-learned from the battlefield," said Rachel Serio, a former TRADOC quality assurance officer. "Knowing the lesson plans he or she is learning is doctrinally correct means the training has been vetted and approved."

Don Kramer is a reporter with Fort Lewis' Northwest Guardian.