NCO Academy transformation improves training, education
Soldiers from the Noncommissioned Officer Academy on Fort Rucker, Ala., participate in a Leadership Reaction Course obstacle. The course, held at the Forward Operating Base on Airport Road, tested NCOs' leadership abilities, teamwork and communicatio... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Recent Army-wide course transformations help Noncommissioned Officer Academy students prepare now for future ranks and responsibilities, officials said.

Students now complete either the Advanced Leader Course or Senior Leader Course, formerly known as Basic and Advanced Noncommissioned Officer Courses until the October transformation, NCO Academy Commandant Command Sgt. Maj. Marlin Smith said.

The switch to ALC and SLC is a Department of the Army-directed program through the NCO Education System. New ALC and SLC material focuses on what lies ahead for Soldiers and not just the tasks at hand, Smith noted. BNCOC and ANCOC had only focused on Soldiers' current jobs.

"We need leaders who know how to think, not what to think," Smith said. "The purpose of the transformation is to provide noncommissioned officers with the right training and education early enough in their career(s) to meet the complex leadership challenges they are facing in today's contemporary operating environment."

Finalizing the transformation took about one year before its autumnal implementation, he said.

The revamping was part of the 2009 Year of the NCO campaign, Smith said, "to recognize the contributions of the NCO Corps to the Army and the nation, but also (to) review all NCO training to identify areas to improve training and education across the entire NCO Corps."

Smith said as many as 800 NCOs, mostly staff sergeants and sergeants first class, walk through the institution's doors annually. During the students' four to six weeks here, Soldiers now learn a variety of skills, including warrior tasks, battle drills, mission planning and more. Classes also participate in 72-hour field training exercises held at the installation forward operating base.

He also added due to the transformation the courses were lengthened by a few days to focus training on higher level leader tasks, knowledge management and professional writing assignments.

All small group leaders, or instructors, received special training in light of the transformation. Smith said instructors were equipped with "updated training concerning Comprehensive Soldier fitness, suicide prevention, knowledge management and culture awareness."

One ALC SGL who believes the specialized training helps him better lead students is Staff Sgt. Timothy Johnson.

"It's real-world training," he said. "It allowed me to have some insight on how to communicate and focus the groups onto the objective."

While SGLs monitor classes, Smith said most of the learning occurs when classmates share personal experiences and teach each other. This is one thing that has remained constant throughout the metamorphosis.

Sgt. Charmaine Duany, an operations school NCO with 601st Aviation Support Battalion at Fort Riley, Kan., was among many students conducting ALC training here late last year.

She said the course helped her brush up on NCO and military occupational specialty skills. She said her favorite parts were the team building and hands-on aspects, such as the field training exercise her class conducted.

Duany added she feels better equipped to rise in the NCO ranks after her four weeks here. "Once you know what's expected of you and how your career should be going, if you're not in that direction, you can steer yourself that way."

Staff Sgt. Stephen Cook also attended ALC this past fall.

"ALC better prepared me to be a successful NCO by providing me the guidance, direction and understanding to return to my unit and integrate lessons learned into my section. Utilizing real world examples and other leaders' perspectives help tremendously when dealing with all aspects of your job and Soldiers," said the Fort Wainwright, Alaska, 6th Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment, assistant operations NCO.

Cook said he believes not training ahead hinders Soldiers' abilities to grow professionally, and ALC negates that problem.

Sgt. 1st Class Gloria Cain, the NCO Academy maintenance branch chief, believes the transformations - for both the SGLs and new courses - help prime NCOs for their service downrange through the practical, hands-on exercises Duany mentioned.

"The battlefield continuously changes, and NCOs are required to adapt and overcome accordingly," Cain said. "With most NCOs working in positions that are usually one or two grades above their own, (the transformations are) very beneficial."

Cain noted the feedback academy staff has received so far is constructive.

"Currently we are working continuously to give the best product to the Soldiers and as information and feedback are received, both negative and positive, we are immediately working toward solutions and enhancing what we have," she said. "It is our duty to provide the very best training and environment to Soldiers attending the courses here at the academy and the cadre works hard to accomplish that mission."

The academy on Fort Rucker trains Soldiers from almost every Aviation military occupation specialty. Those serving in different fields attend similar courses, usually held at their MOS' home installations. Smith said ALC and SLC are promotion prerequisites for Soldiers.