FORT BLISS, Texas (Army News Service, May 22, 2009) - The U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy graduated 614 senior noncommissioned officers from the Sergeants Major Course at the Centennial Club on Fort Bliss, May 21.
Another 30 students graduated earlier this month due to the needs of the Army in the field. Among the graduates were 47 students from international allies and the sister services.
More than 2,000 attendees, to include staff and faculty from the academy, distinguished visitors, families and friends filled the Centennial Club on East Fort Bliss to congratulate the graduates and celebrate their achievements.
Col. Donald Gentry, USASMA commandant, welcomed the distinguished guests, family members, friends and the graduates, and on hearing the resounding "HOOAH" from the students said, "This is the last time I get to hear that, but it always sounds good."
Gentry will be stepping down as commandant of the Academy at the end of the month. Gentry went on to heap special praise on the families and spouses of the students, and said, "Without the support of our families we would not be able to accomplish our mission fully, thank you."
He told the graduates that the future of the Army is now in their hands, and thanked them for who they are and what they do every day.
In a humorous and often anecdotal speech, guest speaker Lt. Gen William B. Caldwell IV, commanding General of the Combined Arms Center and Fort Leavenworth, congratulated the graduates and said he was honored to be at "this great place with all the leaders who are about to go and take command of our Soldiers and our Army."
He too awarded special recognition to the families and spouses of all military members and said, "Those of us in uniform do this for the love of our professions, but you do it (commitment) because of your love for us."
Caldwell applauded the graduates for completing a rigorous course of study and for having reached the "pinnacle of your Army education. Each of you now represents the leadership of the Army, and are no longer in the business of watching change happen, but making change happen."
He asked them to remain humble and to be always approachable and available to the Soldiers. He reminded the graduates, that as the senior leader of their units, they should set the example as "your attitude will permeate throughout your unit, and Soldiers will follow your lead." He welcomed the graduates to the "Board of Directors of the Army."
The graduates were led up the steps to receive their diplomas by Sgt. Maj. Kevin E. Moffett. The recipient of the leadership award in this class of leaders, Moffett, said that he was humbled and honored by the recognition from his peers. He said that all the senior noncommissioned officers who were graduating deserved the award just as much as he did, otherwise they wouldn't have been chosen to attend the premier institution for NCOs.
"Even though I have 20-years experience in the Army, I learned a lot from this course, especially about the strategic and joint level at which the Army functions. I hope to take what I have learned here and use it to benefit my Soldiers and the Army."
One of the International students, Pavel Shishkin, who is the command sergeant major of Kazakhstan's Regional Command "West," said he had graduated from the Kazakhstan Army's NCO School in 1996 as a sergeant, but was only the second person to come to this establishment and get such an education.
He said that the first person from his country to graduate from USASMA is now the command sergeant major of the entire Kazakhstan military. Shishkin said hopes to return to his country and maybe garner the position of command sergeant major of the Army.
He said "I learned a lot from this Academy and it gives me ideas that I want to take to my commander, and make changes in our NCO system, which is still very young."
He thanked the U.S. government and the academy for giving the opportunity for NCOs from his country to come and learn and to help make their military better. He heaped special praise on his sponsor during the course.
"Sgt. Maj. Kevin Moffett, whom I am very proud to have had as my sponsor, he was always eager to help and teach me whenever I needed. He is not just my sponsor now; I now call him my friend," Shishkin said.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry who is a veteran of the United States Air Force, in a congratulatory message read by narrator Jeff Davis, recognized the graduates' patriotism and grace of service and said, "No words can express the debt of gratitude I have toward the members of the military, and I applaud your commitment."
The Soldiers completed more than 1,200 hours of instruction in the last nine months during which they interacted and learned from each others' experiences, while receiving training in everything from combating terrorism and national security affairs to communication and leadership skills, which culminated in a concentrated command post exercise.
Even though the curriculum and instruction is rigorous and time intensive, 278 students still found time to complete civilian graduate programs, to include 63 Masters, 165 Bachelors, and 50 Associates degrees.
Class 59 students were also congratulated by retired Command Sgt. Maj. Al Hobbs from the El Paso Chamber of Commerce for dedicating more than 35,000 hours of volunteer service to the people of the city. The volunteers served meals to the needy, judged drill competitions, performed color guard duties during events and ceremonies in the city, and mentored the youth of El Paso during the many hours they spent in the community.
Hobbs presented the academy with a scroll to appreciate and mark the efforts of the volunteers. The scroll, which has the names of all the students of Class 59, will hang in the academy halls alongside other gifts of appreciation. The graduates of Class 59 departed El Paso following the ceremony, some to return to their units, and others to pastures new.