The concept started as a leader development course for Fort Knox Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation employees.

After more than three years of research and development, the Fort Knox Garrison Leadership Academy graduated its first class of 12 potential leaders in late April to the admiration of supervisors across the Garrison. Behind the scenes, Melinda Roberts, director of Fort Knox Army Community Service, said it was all worth it.

"It took a village to make this happen; it took five of us a lot of hours and time to put this together, but it was all fun," said Roberts. "And this first class, you couldn't ask for a better group."

Officials at DFMWR conducted strategic planning meetings every quarter. During one of those sessions in 2015, someone brought up that new or emerging leaders don't have a course that prepares them for leadership roles.

Roberts noted there are ample courses that can teach the science of leadership -- filling out paperwork and managing work schedules.

"That's not what we were wanting to do," said Roberts. "We were looking at the art of leadership. That's how this whole thing started."

After receiving approval from DFMWR Director Randy Moore, Roberts and Betsy Faber started researching and studying about leadership. By the fall of 2016, they had developed a list of topics they said they felt would be important to teach in a future course and presented it at another strategic planning session.

"They voted, and we narrowed it down to what topics we would then cover," said Roberts. "We had determined, 'This is the curriculum.'"

Roberts and Faber started what she described as the most laborious phase of preparation -- writing each lesson to be taught in the course.

"What we hoped to do was find an off-the-shelf 'magic bullet' book that we could just buy," said Roberts. "We found some things here and there, but none of it was quite what we wanted. We took concepts from what was kind of off the shelf, although we had massaged it quite a bit."

The proof of all their focused work came in the form of a beta test they conducted in July 2018. Twelve people who were trainers and could study the material critically were chosen to run through the test.

"From that, we realized we weren't hitting the mark," Roberts said. "We basically started over."

Of the 19 or so lessons that are taught in the current course, Roberts said they kept about five of them from off-the-shelf materials. The rest have come from hours and hours of research, and then rewriting it from scratch. This includes scripts for every lesson.

Roberts and Faber faced another challenge when Garrison leaders learned of the course. The original course was meant to teach DFMWR employees, but Garrison Commander Col. Pat Kaune wanted it to be expanded to include Garrison junior or burgeoning leaders.

The academy's concept was designed by Roberts to instruct 12 students at a time. The students can self-nominate or are chosen by supervisors to attend, and depending on how many apply to attend, are then culled to ensure a dozen are taught.

Roberts said they answered the call to spread slots among DFMWR and Garrison by dividing student slots on a ratio based on how many employees work for each organization. Because DFMWR has the most employees, they received the majority of slots -- five. The other seven were divided among Garrison organizations.

The eight-week course was divided into four modules, each covered within a two-week period -- for one day a week. The modules covered self-awareness, trust and communication, leader focus, and finally team focus. Each module started out as what Roberts called a lunch-and-learn session lasting about 1 � hours. The next week, the group gathered for an all-day session in the module that culminated in a final review. This included going over any assigned homework and project updates.

One of the 12 students who participated in the academy was Jeffrey Carson.

"This course was outstanding!" said Carson, who works at the Center for Personnel Claims Support. "It's one of the rare instances where the military and the government got training right.
Carson said he could tell that course builders had spent a lot of time researching and preparing to teach the course material.

"Not only was so well put together and presented, they had various exercises that could show you in the most simple terms what things work as a leader. It showed a clear demarcation line between a boss or supervisor and a leader."

Another wow factor for Carson came in the form of fellow students. He said he was impressed with the caliber of students who had been selected for the course.

"Everybody that was nominated deserved to be there," said Carson, "and they proved it every day."

The next class is slated for the fall.