FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- Ask leaders, and they'll tell you that noncommissioned officers are the backbone of the Army. Fort Drum's Warrior Leader Course teaches 10th Mountain Division (LI) specialists, corporals and sergeants the basics of Army leadership and discipline that they'll need when they get back to their units.
WLC is the first leadership course enlisted Soldiers attend under the Noncommissioned Officer Education System, according to Command Sgt. Maj. Kevin Sharkey, NCO Academy commandant.
First Sgt. Michael Henry, NCO Academy deputy commandant, added that WLC instructors emphasize leadership, NCO duties and responsibilities, and authority in their units.
Units select Soldiers to attend the course based on their potential to assume the duties and responsibilities of an NCO, he added. WLC gives Soldiers a strong foundation, teaching them to make sound and timely decisions, plan, adhere to Army professional ethics, communicate effectively and apply Soldier-team development.
Recently, a few senior small group leaders recommended adding a drill and ceremony competition to the course, which is not a requirement in the Army's WLC standards.
"(They believed) that if we developed a competitive event surrounding drill and ceremony, it would breed a sense of pride in young leaders and invigorate the Soldiers (to learn) the meaning behind the actions of drill and ceremony," Henry said.
Historically, drill and ceremony was to "prepare troops for battle and establish discipline under fire," according to Sharkey.
"In 1778, Baron Friedrich von Steuben, (who is credited with introducing a structured system of military training), primarily used drill to take a rag tag group of American patriots and turn them into an Army," he said. "He formed a model company of 120 men, consisting mainly of NCOs, and taught them drill. After they perfected the drill, these NCOs were distributed throughout the Army to teach what they learned. Through drill, they improved the overall effectiveness and efficiency of the Army."
At the beginning of the course, students are grouped into squads. Each squad picks several Soldiers to represent the team in the drill and ceremony competition. During the competition, a Soldier calls out marching commands to the other team members while they march in a 35- by-50-foot box. Points are deducted for stepping out of the box, for breaking attention and even for their posture.
"Drill and ceremony training teaches the Soldiers discipline, uniformity, continuity and confidence in their ability to lead subordinates," Henry said. "The training will also allow superiors to evaluate their junior leaders and their abilities to communicate with Soldiers effectively and with confidence."
WLC staff constantly evaluates course plans to update and refine the curriculum to prepare junior leaders for situations they will face, at home and abroad, Henry said. The school receives updates from its proponent, the U.S. Sergeants Major Academy, at least three times a year.
However, the staff has flexibility to determine what aspects of training are relevant to Fort Drum Soldiers and may add training requirements.
"The primary mission of the WLC is to teach the basics of leadership and establish a solid foundation for a career of lifelong learning," Sharkey said.
Two Soldiers from the 704th Military Intelligence Brigade at Fort Meade, Md., stood out among their peers, earning top honors in the class that graduated Tuesday.
Spc. Benjamin T. Pullen was named Distinguished Honor Graduate for his outstanding academic achievement. He received the award for maintaining the highest grade point average from all examinations: leadership, training and warfighting skills; and evaluations: physical readiness training, drill and ceremony, oral presentation, conducting individual training, leadership in both garrison and tactical environments, and communicating in writing.
Pullen said receiving the highest score out of all his classmates felt "pretty good." He said he wants to continue leading Soldiers and "taking care of Soldiers more than my technical job."
"Everything that was taught at WLC I took something away from," Pullen said. "I pieced it together, (remembering) the NCOs in my unit during sergeant's time training or how they did their counseling, and put it together here (at school). It made a lot more sense."
One thing Pullen learned was the importance of regulations.
"I didn't know that the regulations were that easy to look through. I always thought it was a huge book that nobody touched," he said.
Pullen said he's wanted to serve in the military since he was a child, adding his father is currently serving on active duty and is deployed to Iraq.
"Ever since I was a little kid, I wanted to serve my country," Pullen said. "I thought the Army was better than all the other branches, and I wanted to go Airborne."
Sgt. Amanda M. Morris received the Jared C. Monti Leadership Award. After being nominated for the award by her classmates, Morris had to appear before a board to provide a short biography on herself and Monti, a recent Medal of Honor recipient from 10th Mountain Division (LI), and she had to answer a series of questions about leadership.
Morris said being selected for the leadership award by her classmates felt "amazing," but preparing for the board was time-consuming. While she has been to several boards before, this one was a little different because it gave her "the opportunity to learn about (Sgt. 1st Class Jared Monti)."
Morris also has Family ties to the military; her grandfather served in the Army.
"I joined the Army because it's all I've ever wanted to do - serve my country," she said.
Morris added that she intends to be a "career Soldier," and she enjoys the Army's camaraderie. She said she also enjoyed learning about leadership at WLC.
"WLC was definitely an eye-opener," she said. "I'm from an (intelligence) community, so being able to come here and interact with Soldiers from all different (military occupational specialties) taught me a lot about different styles of leadership and different ways to handle problems. It definitely helped me expand (my knowledge) as a leader."