For Soldiers, rappelling from a fifty-foot tower, wearing a self-built harness may be commonplace, but as a civilian engineer, it's somewhat extraordinary.
"Basically you are at the top of the tower, going off the ledge and just falling, and you don't know if you are going to make it or not," said Sharothi Sultana. "To let yourself go in the empty air is just scary."
Although she may not have known what she had gotten herself into when she signed up for the Executive Leadership Development Program (ELDP), Sultana found herself rappelling and doing other physical activities she would never experience in her work at the Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center.
In her eight years working for the CERDEC, Sultana initially started her engineering career as an intern and has progressed to her current leadership role as Ground Mobile Radio branch chief for the Space and Terrestrial Communications Directorate. In hopes of enrolling in a leadership training course, Sultana stumbled upon the ELDP program on the DoD website.
"I knew I wanted to pursue a leadership position so I was looking for what the Army or DoD had to offer in terms of leadership development," Sultana said.
In October 2008, Sultana and the 57 other selected applicants began their journey in Southbridge, Massachusetts with two weeks of core training that simulated the mental and physical aspects of active-duty basic training.
"We had to prepare ourselves because in order for you to be allowed to participate in the training you have to pass a physical assessment," Sultana said.
The program aims to give its participants experience and appreciation for the Warfighter by providing them with intensive, hands-on field experiences combined with classroom learning, and incorporates monthly deployments to each of the different services.
"It's called deployment because you end up doing a lot of intense hands-on training with the Soldiers," Sultana said.
In addition to traveling to various commands and military bases in the United States, Sultana and her classmates traveled to Korea and Europe. They witnessed a Hawaiian sunrise on the they did physical training with Navy Seals.
"This class pushed me hard to become more physically active" Sultana said.
Because the course aimed at giving its participants a real-life feel of being the Soldiers' shoes, Sultana and her colleagues experienced military training including weapon firing techniques, live fire, simulated combat training, combat life saving and airborne jumps.
"I did a static parachute jump from the thirty-four foot tower; a very scary experience," Sultana said. "They tell you when you go up there not to look down and, of course the first thing I do is look down and I'm thinking to myself 'why am I doing this''"
The experience was not limited to physical training, the accompanying staff-rides, reading assignments; in-class training and after-action reviews gave her historical and strategic insight into the DoD.
"Every location we traveled to, we had the privilege to engage in direct discussions with senior leaders," Sultana said.
The ELDP participants heard Adm. Timothy Keating speak about Pacific Command's area of responsibility; Maj. Gen. John Morgan, commanding general, 2nd Infantry Division talk about challenges of combat evacuation; and Maj. Gen. Raymond Carpenter, director Army National Guard Bureau discuss the contributions of the citizen Soldier.
"It's very rare to get that kind of opportunity to hear someone as senior as a combatant commander candidly speak about what he's trying to do and what his needs are," Sultana said.
For Sultana, the exposure throughout the program helped her gain an even greater appreciation for Soldiers, particularly after talking with new Army recruits at Fort Benning, Ga.
"The nine weeks of the training they go through just to go from a 17 year-old kid to a Private is amazing," Sultana said. "You talk to these recruits and hear the things they have gone through and you're thinking that no matter how tough your job is, it's nothing compared to what he or she is doing out there."
The personal interactions, hands-on experiences and overall curriculum of the course centered around five main learning objectives to better each individual's leadership skills: know yourself, express yourself, build teams, manage organizations, and understand the overall Department of Defense.
"I went into the training expecting to improve my leadership skills and to also understand the other services and the Department of Defense overall, not just S&TCD or CERDEC," Sultana said.
Throughout the ten-month training, Sultana's experiences not only helped her form bonds with her classmates and gain confidence in herself, but also gave her greater understanding of what it's like to be in the Warfighter's shoes.
"I think at the end of the program you feel a lot more appreciative of the things this country has done, and the sacrifices the soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines make every day" Sultana said.
Sultana believes ELDP has better prepared her to face future challenges and made her more poised to lead others in supporting the Warfighters.
"I hope to bring back the lessons learned to my daily job, help better focus on our work here at CERDEC; keep in mind what we're really trying to accomplish and at the end of the day how that really translates into the everyday needs of a Soldier," Sultana said.