CAMP SMITH TRAINING SITE, N.Y. - Thirty-six New York Army National Guard Soldiers, picked by their commanders as potential leaders, spent two weeks honing their military skills and learning new ones here July 8-22.

The Future Leaders Course is a pilot program designed to build the skill sets of specialists and sergeants to make them ready to take on leadership roles, according to New York State Command Sgt. Major David Piwowarski.

The course also helps prepare them for the Army's Basic Leadership Course, the first formal course young Soldiers take in the process of becoming a non-commissioned officer, Piwowarski said.

Over the two weeks, the Soldiers reviewed in their basic Warrior Tasks and battle drills to include:

• Combat Life Saver training;

• The leadership reaction course;

• Land navigation;

• M9 and M4 marksmanship training;

And the combat order process.

A field training exercise (FTX) capped the training cycle.

During the FTX, the Soldiers honed their skills in tactical movement, reacting to improvised explosive devices and room clearing.

The leadership reaction course tested the Soldiers ability to problem solve together while negotiating obstacles.

What makes this training different, though, is that classes were taught by the students, said Master Sgt. Scott Kyle, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the program.

Instead of having the cadre members teach all classes, the students were tasked to teach the subject matter, Kyle said. Following the classes, the students applied what they learned through practical exercises in the field.

Each platoon of 18 Soldiers was assigned three mentors who were either experienced staff sergeants or sergeants first class. The mentors corrected the students or gave them tips on how to succeed during the practical exercises.

The students were also given many opportunities that most lower enlisted Soldiers don't get, such as shooting an M-9 pistol and doing a stress shoot on the M4 range, said Spc. Katherine Solina, a member of the 642nd Aviation Support Battalion.

"It was an awesome experience, because I've never fired an M9 before, and I feel like most people haven't fired one before," Solina said.

During their final field training exercise, the class was also given a familiarization ride in UH-60 helicopters over the Hudson River.

By the end of the class, the mentors and students both saw an immense change in the leadership skills of the students, Kyle said.

"Many of the students that came here timid, are now upfront, and they have confidence in themselves when they're in front of the platoon," Kyle said

The Future Leaders Course concept is a good one, said Cpl. Julio Fernandez, a member of 1st Battalion, 258th Field Artillery.

"There's gonna be things we have to learn together...as long as everyone is focused, honest, and does what they're supposed to do, I think we should move forward," he said.