FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kansas (Sept. 27, 2018) -- Twelve sergeants major and one spouse gathered for the second Soldier for Life -- Transition Assistance Program's Nominative Command Sergeants Major and Sergeants Major Course Sept. 17-21 at the Resiliency Center.

The course, which was originally piloted in May with 16 sergeants major participating, is tailored to better fit the needs of senior noncommissioned officers who are retiring from the Army.

"Nominative sergeants major are those who hold a one- to four-star billet and are usually the highest ranking enlisted leader for major commands," said Brett Rosene, SFL-TAP transition services manager. "Most nominative sergeants major have around 30 years of service, so their transition needs differ greatly from younger soldiers.

"The goal is to ensure that these transitioning sergeants major receive information, training and guidance that is tailored to their needs," he said. "We want a living curriculum that we can adjust and refine based upon feedback from the previous courses. The needs of this demographic are much different from our normal client so we will keep changing to better suit them."

Throughout the week, participants were briefed on how to use and navigate LinkedIn and USA Jobs, participated in Department of Labor employment workshops, and spoke with various employers in the civilian world.

They were also briefed on Veterans Affairs benefits and TRICARE, a unique aspect separate from the normal SFL-TAP course.

"Many of these soldiers do not plan on going back to work, so we have to take that into consideration," Rosene said.

Command Sgt. Maj. Vickie Culp, regimental command sergeant major for the Transportation Corps at Fort Lee, Va., said the briefings on VA benefits and TRICARE were eye-opening.

"It was very important to understand how the VA piece works because I didn't have a lot of knowledge at all other than what people have told me who have already retired," Culp said. "Before, somebody automatically enrolled us in (TRICARE) because we were active duty. Now we enroll ourselves. That part was a little bit alarming."

Even though she was initially concerned, Culp said she feels prepared for her retirement in September 2019 after 30 years of service.

Sgt. Maj. Mike Stoddard, sergeant major of the Army senior fellow at the Department of Labor Veterans Employment and Training Services in Washington, D.C., said he was also glad they were briefed on TRICARE.

"No matter what position you're in, whether you're moving right into a job, you're going to take some time off or you're going to not do anything right away, what this does is provide you information because as we all know, life changes," Stoddard said. "If I understand the challenges we have and have an understanding for how your health care is going to be taken care of and what you're going to be responsible for, it provides this sense of comfort on a very life-changing mission that you're getting ready to do.

"The second thing is everybody in (this course) is responsible for other people," Stoddard said. "So now, not only do I take care of myself, but because of the great professionals that are in there, they will take that information back and start to help those folks and those other families, soldiers, senior noncommissioned officers understand that there are resources out there to share."

Stoddard participated in the regular SFL-TAP course in April at Fort Myer, Va., which he said was helpful. However, he said being able to be around NCOs who shared his status was more beneficial than anything.

"You're going to leave here with relationships and people that you can reach back to," he said. "Really, I think the importance of transition is having the relationships built with those folks that are going through the same thing you're going through that you can reach back to and get that sense of comfort."

Stoddard will retire from active duty on Sept. 1, 2019, after 30 years of service.

Command Sgt. Maj. Rick Merritt, 8th U.S. Army, Korea, said the nominative course has better prepared him for transition than his base in Korea, but he wished he had been able to have the course earlier in his career to better assist his soldiers.

"What I really learned from this is my Army, myself, we missed it. I should have had this in the (U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy)," Merritt said. "Me walking out with what I know now, I could help a lot more soldiers become soldiers for life and be productive as they transition had I been armed with all this information.

"I would probably help create recruiters for life and definitely make it better for soldiers going back into our nation and into our ranks as veterans," he said. "I do anything that my soldiers can do and I make sure I can do something I tell them to do, whether it is firing weapons at different skill levels, whether it is leading a platoon, running a battalion, but the one thing I've never done is retire … We would understand it more and soldiers would get more support transitioning had those leaders been through this themselves."

Merritt said the best time to provide the training is at the platoon sergeant and first sergeant level.
"There I know every man, every soldier, everyone in that platoon so well," he said. "I know why they came in, how they tick, what they're looking for."

Merritt will retire from active duty March 31, 2019, after 35 years of service.

The nominative course is open to command sergeants major and sergeants major who work for one- to four-star general officers and are within 24 months of separation from the Army. Qualified NCOs will be contacted by the Sergeant Major of the Army Nominative Program Office when they submit paperwork for retirement.

The next class is Jan. 14-18, 2019.