After attending the First Army Alvin C. York Academy, First Army observer coach/trainers are ready to assist Reserve Component units as they prepare for deployment.
After attending the First Army Alvin C. York Academy, First Army observer coach/trainers are ready to assist Reserve Component units as they prepare for deployment. (Photo Credit: Warren Marlow) VIEW ORIGINAL

The heart of the First Army mission is the skilled Observer Coach/Trainer. The epicenter of their unique skillset is the Alvin C. York Academy.

Named for the World War I Medal of Honor hero who served under First Army, the academy focuses on certifying world-class OC/Ts prepared to partner with and train Reserve Component Soldiers for deployment.

“We wanted to embrace a tradition of training Soldiers, whether they were Active Duty, National Guard, or Reserve, and the name Alvin C. York fit,” said academy commandant, Command Sgt. Maj. Roberto Alvarez, about the re-naming of the academy in York’s honor.

To facilitate its rigorous training, the academy employs 16 instructors, who give 23 five-day classes each year. It is expected that every Soldier assigned to First Army will complete the academy, so the instructors have influence on everyone who wears First Army’s historic ‘A’ patch.

“At any given time, any First Army Soldier can perform OC/T duties and prepare a unit for deployment and combat,” Alvarez said.

The academy drills into the finer points of performing observer coach/trainer tasks through demonstrations, practical exercises, after action reviews, and a gathering of lessons learned.

While most students travel to the academy at Camp Shelby, Miss., there are times when mission or logistics require Mobile Training Teams to be dispatched to a unit’s home station. This is most often the case with First Army Reserve Component units and ensuring that they are trained to the same York Academy standard helps to build and sustain the Total Force.

“Mobile Training Teams developed from the need of our 85th Support Command Reserve units to get their OC/Ts to the academy,” said Sgt. Maj. Brad Tener, First Army G3 training sergeant major. “The MTTs travel to a location where the students can come in for five days, attend the academy, and not disrupt their lives as much as traveling to Camp Shelby would.”

Another way the academy has adapted is in handling the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic through remote learning.

“It was a little harder because virtual training is not the preferred method but we got the mission accomplished,” Alvarez said. “All this happens because of the professional NCOs I have in the academy.”

First Army often says that its OC/Ts are the organization’s key pacing item and the tip of the spear in partnership with the Army Reserve and Army National Guard. The unit puts a premium on OC/T leaders who are operationally experienced and prepared to use real-world, combat proficiency to train, support and mentor their Reserve Component peers.

“When they come to us, we don’t expect them to be subject matter experts but we give them the tools at how to be successful. Success is them having the partnered units ready to go fight,” Alvarez said. “We want to create professional OC/Ts that are subject matter experts in doctrine and who pass that knowledge onto others.”

“A good OC/T is doctrinally proficient in their MOS tasks and duties,” Tener added. “They have a professional demeanor in everything they do and in how they work with others.”

One of the academy’s main functions is to keep OC/T’s skills sharp, relevant, and modern.

“We want to retain the ability to evaluate and offer AARs to training audiences in a professional manner that is standardized across our formations,” Tener said. “We’ve all done AARs but we don’t want to get rusty or learn bad habits so the academy lays it out in a doctrinally-correct manner.”

The entire mission of the York Academy perfectly reflects First Army’s lineage.

First Army was activated in France under the command of Gen. John J. Pershing when America’s Army was just 98,000 strong. Pershing needed nearly 2 million soldiers for the fight ahead, and he ordered each new soldier be painstakingly trained by professional, combat-hardened peers. With these well-trained, First Army smashed the Hindenburg line and led the Allies to victory.

Pershing was prescient in 1917, and his words remain true for the First Army OC/T today. “We no longer differentiate in an ultimate sense between Army, National Guard and Reserve Forces,” he said. “Our purpose is to think only of the American citizen and prepare him for duties in war.”