HUMPHREYS GARRISON - "Pack your bags sergeant," said my First Sergeant. "You're heading to Warrior Leadership Course."
I cringed at the thought of spending an entire month at Camp Jackson, the small hole-in-the-mountain base near the DMZ. I nodded my head, acknowledging his guidance, and slowly dragged my feet to my room. My eyes stared at the packing list in my hands and at the rucksack in front of me, the inevitable had finally arrived. Two weeks and a missed four-day-weekend later, I found myself - along with 68 other students - in-processing for WLC.
For two weeks, my fellow Soldiers and I spent hours in classroom instruction, learning the basics of being a noncommissioned officer from writing counseling statements to evaluation reports and also how to write properly.
Our instructors taught us how to teach and lead a proper physical training session and how to teach an individual training session. Lunch breaks were spent on the drill pad where we sharpened our drill and ceremony skills. Evenings were spent beautifying the area grounds, preparing for the following day's instructions and practicing for our various evaluations.
The 30 days didn't end in the garrison environment as there's more to being an NCO than marching troops around and counseling them. For a week straight, my classmates and I spent hours hiking through the land navigation course, learning how to move a squad of warfighters through a tactical environment, how to respond to enemy fire and how to properly establish an area of operations. Completing the stimulated training exercise meant only one thing in our eyes: we were only one week from graduation.
Somewhere between the dining-in rehearsals, blindly stepping into a swampy rice paddy during land navigation and waxing the floor during fire guard, it hit me--WLC isn't about graduating with honors or learning how to give a class on the proper wear of camouflage paint. It's not even about spending hours ensuring your shirts are rolled exactly six inches and your shoes and boots are aligned precisely to the foot of the bed. And it's definitely not about spending an entire month sleeping in a sleeping bag on top of your already tightly made bed - complete with the 45 degree angle corner - for fear of messing it up. WLC is about more than that.
It's about the moments when you're squeezed into the back of a light medium tactical vehicle with the rest of your squad and Sgts. Korey Waddy and P-Jay Hall still have energy to sing random bits of songs at the top of their lungs, insisting that it's the "'Mo Murder Third" radio station. It's about the moments when Sgts. Jason Grider and John Weaver build a hooch that not even the biblical character Joshua could tear down; all the while, they continue to tease you with how wonderfully shady it is under their hooch as you lie in the boiling sun.
It's about the moments when you find yourself having a bad day and Sgt. Khara Tate is there to offer you a hug or a smile to get you through the day; it's about the times in class when Sgt. Cory Thatcher will randomly produce the most off-the-wall jokes that leave everyone, even the instructor, in tears from laughing so hard. It's about the moments when you find yourself listening to a squad mate recite the NCO Creed and they insist that we are the "Blackbones of the Army" and everyone desperately tries to maintain their military bearing while pursing their lips together to keep the laughter in.
It's about all those moments where you realize that you are part of a team, a group of people that is there to help you when you are lost, having a bad day or just there to tease you and make you laugh. It's about all those moments when you realize how fortunate you are to be working alongside the best that the Army has to offer.
WLC is more than a month of training; it's about coming to learn and leaving to lead.