The Secretary of the Army dedicated 2009 to the noncommissioned officer, celebrating enlisted leaders as they serve as the backbone of this organization. Recognizing the importance of a strong Army leader, especially during this era of persistent conflict, the 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team is helping to shape its first-line supervisors.

"We have taken all our team leaders, relatively new NCOs and specialists who are now first-line leaders, away from their Soldiers and dedicated this entire week to set the standards so that they can better prepare themselves to lead their Soldiers," said 3/7 Inf. Regt. Command Sgt. Maj. Christopher Gilpin.

The battalion's senior enlisted advisor said he established a Team Leader Certification course after his unit redeployed from Iraq in December 2008. The course was designed to train 3/7's most junior supervisors to effectively lead troops in both garrison and tactical environments.

"We focused on those typical day-to-day duties and responsibilities that NCOs will have to execute to take care of their Soldiers," Command Sgt. Maj. Gilpin said. The training ranged from writing NCO evaluation reports and counseling forms to weapons familiarization and leading foot patrols, he said.

The week-long course culminated June 11, with an air assault operation at Hunter Army Airfield. This exercise taught the team leaders how to properly mount and dismount a UH-60 Black Hawk, safely and efficiently.

With the 4th IBCT's recent transformation from a heavy brigade combat team to a light infantry unit, the team leader training is also helping 3/7 Infantry Soldiers learn the brigade's new mission requirements.

"Especially now as a light infantry unit, (this training) is important because it's the first-line leader who is in charge of an element that will make contact with the enemy, and he is going to be the decisive leader on the battlefield in terms of winning or losing that close fight," Command Sgt. Maj. Gilpin said.

Specialist Billy Collins, team leader for Company B, 3/7 Inf., said the Team Leader Certification course is helping him become a more proficient leader, even more so now that his unit's operations have changed.

"We do more walking and a lot more ranges now. The training is completely different," the Charleston, W. Va., native said. "(During this course) we got different leadership aspects from different people, (and though) we all pretty much know what we are doing and how to lead Soldiers, it's also about getting the battalion on the same level, one set standard for all leaders."

With the success of the team-leader training, the Cottonbaler Battalion plans to hold another certification course later this year.