FORT BLISS, Texas (June 22, 2009) -- Filling the seats of the Kenneth W. Cooper Lecture Center at the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy Friday, 274 students of the Sergeants Major Nonresident Course ended an educational trek that took some almost two years to complete.

The ceremony marked the culmination of long-distance instruction that parallels that of the resident course curriculum, but is designed for those master sergeants, first sergeants, sergeant majors and command sergeant majors whose jobs or career paths made it difficult to complete the nine-month resident course.

Academy commandant, Col. Donald Gentry, gave opening remarks informing the graduates and their guests, "It's over. I applaud you for what you have done in your ability and your dedication to this Army and to your Soldiers.

"The nonresident course is a special course and I didn't realize that until I came here two years ago," he added. "I didn't have a whole lot of understanding and I have come to realize that about half of every Soldier that wears the rank of sergeant major is a graduate of the nonresident course. Your dedication to an online course and to come here for two week to finish it up is truly laudable."

Command Sgt. Maj. Niel Ciatola, III Corps and Fort Hood command sergeant major, was on hand to provide the guest speaker address to the graduating class.

Ciatola recalled how far things had come in the Global War of terrorism and the improvements that have been made in Iraq and Afghanistan. He also noted how far the Army has come and how today's youth will look back upon the graduates of this class as examples of how it was.

He cautioned the graduates, however, that even though they are nearing the end of their military careers, their job was not done.

"There are some of you here who believe that you have arrived. Sergeants major, you and I have not arrived yet. The day that you retire is the day you arrive," he said. "No; we are in another race. No matter how much time you have left, the measure of our success will be measured in the capacity of our youth. Everything we know belongs to our youth. We are merely caretakers of this institution."

He said mentoring today's Soldiers is just like raising a family.

"Just like raising our children, they don't want us to tell them what to do. They just want to know that we are going to be there when they screw up what they intended to do," he said. "There are only two things we don't want our youth to do - kill someone inadvertently or damage American equipment - everything else is fair game. Sergeants majors, all they want to know is that we will be there when they screw up."

In his travels throughout the Army, Ciatola said, he is constantly asked what should be a Soldier's focus.

"The Army has made that simple," he said. "Always place the mission first, never accept defeat, never give up and never leave a fallen comrade. Let that be your guide."
Ciatola also noted that American people call Soldiers heroes, while most who wear the uniform do not consider that to be so.

"We are ordinary men and women who have been lifted up in the eyes of the nation, but there are heroes amongst us," he said. "I will contend that the real heroes of today are our husbands and wives," recognizing their sacrifices over the years.

Following his remarks, Ciatola was joined on stage by Gentry, Academy command sergeant major, Command Sgt. Maj. Raymond Chandler and the director of the Nonresident Course, Sergeant Maj. Leo Adams to pass out the class scrolls to the new graduates.

The Nonresident Sergeants Major Course course is structured in phases, modules, and lessons. Student attends Phase I via distance learning and then upon completion of all classes will attend Phase II, the resident course.

The Phase I is individualized self-paced instruction. Phase II takes place during a 2-week resident period. Evaluation of task proficiency is determined through tests and /or practical exercises. Physical readiness is determined using Army Physical Readiness Test (APRT), according to Army Regulation (AR) 600-9 and AR 350-41. Instructors evaluate the students' leadership and management abilities throughout the course.

More than 87 percent of the student body of Class 01-09 consisted of the reserve component (Army Reserves and Army National Guard). The average age was 45, while the average time in service was 25 years.