The first class of more than 150 students with a new curriculum for the Basic Leadership Course (BLC) graduated June 22 at the Fort McCoy Noncommissioned Officer (NCO) Academy.

BLC is designed to build basic leader and trainer skills needed to lead a team-size element while at the same time providing the foundation for further development along the professional military education (PME) learning continuum, said Sgt. 1st Class Kristofer L. Hellstrom, information systems technician and advisor with the academy.

"Several changes have been made to BLC," Hellstrom said. "Not only to what is being taught but how it's being taught. The Army is transitioning from instructors to facilitators who can utilize the experiential learning model of education. Our academy has embraced this change and has been preparing for this transition.

"And this preparation has paid off, allowing us to make the adjustment to a new curriculum two months earlier than the scheduled release of Aug. 1," he said.

Under the new BLC course manager plan and program of instruction, there is more emphasis on six leader core competencies, Hellstrom said. These competencies include; readiness, leadership, training management, communications, operations, and program management.

"More training is being given in writing, communication, and the responsibility of being a leader," Hellstrom said. "With this change in focus has also come and increase in personal responsibility for the new leaders. They have been given more opportunities to come and go from the academy campus, allowing them an environment more focused on academia than entry-level Soldier training. They are being treated as the responsible future leaders who they are expected to become."

Students who trained under the new curriculum enjoyed the opportunity.

"BLC is going to mold and create better leaders to lead the future of the Army," said Spc. Rebecca Stenz with the 1157th Transportation Company of Oshkosh, Wis. "I was able to take a lot out of this course to learn and grow on an individual level as well as on a leadership level."

Stenz said the training in counseling, Army writing, and communication are three areas "that are going to contribute to further my career and knowledge as an NCO."

Spc. Erica Bergmann with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 173rd Brigade Engineer Battalion of Wausau, Wis., said she enjoyed many parts of the course, such as cultural competence and counseling blocks of instruction.

"Overall I had a very positive experience," Bergmann said. "The student-led discussions as well as practical exercises were beneficial and forced us as students to think critically."

Spc. Tianna Elizabeth Field with the 112th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment of Madison, Wis., said she liked being part of the first class.

"This new curriculum is great," Field said. "I think it gives Soldiers the opportunities to truly show their leadership skills and show they are truly accountable and responsible."

During the class graduation June 22, Command Sgt. Maj. Rafael Conde, 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team command sergeant major, was the guest speaker. Conde congratulated academy staff for successfully implementing the new curriculum.

To the new BLC graduates, Conde said they need to be ready for the challenges ahead.

"Be prepared, rehearsed, and ready," Conde said. "All these topics (you learned) are meant to give you a taste of what the Army expects of you. It is up to you to further your skills from here. ... We need every leader to lead by example. And as an NCO, you must live the Army values in every moment of every day."

The BLC changes are part of the Army's NCO 2020 initiative. According to Army Training and Doctrine Command, NCO 2020 is "a revolutionary initiative ... to develop a deliberate, data-driven process to assess the needs of tomorrow's NCO professionals."

The NCO Academy was activated at Fort McCoy in 1988. The academy is one of the largest tenant organizations at Fort McCoy providing institutional training with more than 1,800 students attending annually for the Battle Staff Noncommissioned Officer Course and the Basic Leader Course.

The academy's mission is to "train and develop agile and adaptive warrior leaders and Soldiers in full-spectrum operations."

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