FORT BLISS, Texas --The NCO Leadership Center of Excellence and Sergeants Major Academy launches the latest Sergeants Major Course, through a blended educational model that combines virtual and resident style learning, effective September 14.The number one priority of Command Sgt. Maj. Jason Schmidt, the commandant of the NCOLCoE, ensures the protection of the staff, cadre, students, and family members.“To preserve force health protection, we are taking proactive steps to remind our personnel and families to adhere to the guidelines outlined by the Center for Disease Control and the Defense Health Agency,” Schmidt said.The selected and carefully planned blended model provides the SMC Class 71 students with weekly socially distanced face-to-face interaction in small groups with their instructors.The creation of the blended model ensures the safety and well-being of everyone that is a part of the institution.“Utilizing extreme social distance and safety measures, allows five students inside the classroom, while the remaining ten students attend the session virtually,” Sgt. Maj. Dietrek Louis, the assistant chief of education for the Sergeants Major Academy, said.The SMC blended learning model consists of a combination of limited faced to face training and online training via Blackboard.com.“Students will rotate days ensuring every student is afforded the same opportunities to receive a quality education while attending the SMC,” Louis said.Another change occurring with Class 71 is the plan for guest speakers.“This year, the plan for guest speakers is for two in-person visits per semester and four virtual visits,” Louis said. He added, “visits for this school year are capped at six per semester versus the eight in past SMC classes.”The Cooper Lecture Center is prepared for 200 students to safely attend a guest speakers’ presentation while also adhering to the social distancing precautions.“The face-to-face events are capped to a number that can safely gather in the selected space, while all others will attend through virtual means,” Louis said.The SMC Class 71 students will encounter a total of 20 virtual speakers and ten speakers in-person throughout their school year at the institution.Louis further explained, “There will not be more than one speaking event scheduled in the same week.”The NCOLCoE continues to balance activities affecting force readiness and training while operating in a COVID-19 environment.The execution of the current educational plan of the Class 71 students occurs for the first semester.“The guidance is to complete the semester in the mode that we started,” Louis said. “Unless COVID-19 indicates the conditions are getting unsafe to function using the blended model”, he added.The current blended model ensures that proper health and safety standards are abided by throughout the NCOLCoE.“I want the students to know that the quality of education they receive will not be affected by the mode of delivery,” Louis said. “Our students will receive a world-class educational experience throughout the year.”The staff and cadre of the NCOLCoE are dedicated to meeting the mission requirements while safeguarding the health and wellness of the students and their families.The NCOLCoE encourages all Army personnel and their families to follow the Force Health Protection guidance and supplements as well as the CDC and Prevention guidance.Force Health Protection is the Army’s top priority. Protecting the force includes mitigating the virus's spread and ensuring personnel has the most up-to-date information on appropriate measures to prevent the potential spread of COVID-19.In an effort to maintain force readiness, the training at the NCOLCoE continues to develop enlisted leaders into holistically fit, disciplined, well-educated professionals capable of meeting the challenges of large scale combat operations in a multi-domain environment.