By Sgt. Christopher M. Gaylord, 5th Mobile Public Affairs DetachmentJanuary 27, 2012
JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. -- Sergeant 1st Class Shvoda Gregory remembers a time in the Army when new sergeants coming up in the world learned to care for their Soldiers the hard way: by making mistakes.
"The term we used for it was 'baptism by fire,'" said Gregory, motor sergeant for the 557th Engineer Company on Joint Base Lewis-McChord-North. "You learn as you go."
"I learned the hard way, but I learned."
As Gregory approached the rank of noncommissioned officer, no one showed him how to inspect a Soldier's barracks room; no one taught him how to properly counsel a subordinate.
But long gone are those days.
In an Army he says has transcended miles past the mindset of learning on the fly, Gregory now dedicates five days every few months to teaching basic leadership skills and qualities to newly-promoted and future NCOs within his parent battalion, the 864th Engineer Battalion.
The efforts of Gregory and several other seasoned sergeants -- mostly staff sergeants and sergeants 1st class -- who also train the young leaders, are part of the battalion's junior leadership development course, a determined initiative spearheaded last fall to whip its next generation of NCOs into the best possible shape.
"It's designed to better prepare them to assume the role as a noncommissioned officer and be able to fulfill their duties as a team leader, squad leader or section sergeant," said Gregory, a Fayettville, N.C., native with 12 years of service under his belt. "It strengthens them and their fundamentals of being an NCO."
"It shows them what they're supposed to do and how they're supposed to do it."
Today, on a vast, grassy parade field outside the battalion's headquarters, under a typical dark Pacific Northwest sky, the ideals of a new Army are alive and well -- give junior leaders the right tools before it's too late.
"Becoming an NCO and being put in a team leader position or a section sergeant position -- that's really not the time for you to be taught," Gregory said. "So, I think the fact that the 864th does have a junior leadership course -- In my opinion it's strengthening our NCO Corps within the 864th Engineer Battalion."
During the five days, specialists awaiting promotion to sergeant and those recently promoted learn to march and inspect a squad of Soldiers; identify symbols and features on a map and determine grid coordinates; properly read and interpret military pay statements; plan and organize training events; and effectively care for and assist troubled Soldiers through the use of military support programs, among other key topics.
They're skills Sgt. Carlos Paiz, one of the battalion's newest sergeants and a leader of six Soldiers, will pride himself on mastering as he grows through the Army's enlisted ranks.
"I'm going to be able to do things right, and I'm going to have the knowledge from this course to help me out," said Paiz, a 22-year-old Ontario, Calif., native who can trace his unwavering passion to serve back to 9-11.
He was 10 or 11, he recalls, when he watched the events unfold on television. His mother assumed the attack was an accident, but he felt a calling to something greater.
"When we were in school it was all over the news, and at that point the president said it was a terrorist attack, and that's when I was like, 'I want to be a Soldier,'" he recalls.
And he committed, eventually dropping his plans to pursue law enforcement so he could join the Army instead.
Now, Paiz, a heavy equipment operator with the 557th Eng. Co., epitomizes what it means to be a leader. He stands tall -- always upright and confident -- and he speaks sternly. He loves what he does, and he loves to do it well.
"I love what I do, and if I'm going to do something I'm going to give it 100 percent," he said. "I feel like my Soldiers deserve that."
"I was going up in the ranks with NCOs who didn't give me 100 percent, and I said in my head, 'I'm not going to be like that,'" he said, alluding back to his most cherished lesson that sometimes you can learn from the bad just as well as the good.
Sergeant 1st Class Keith Baltozer, the battalion's training NCO, who designed the course, said the 864th Eng. Bn. is the only unit on the installation that currently administers a similar course for junior leaders.
Command Sgt. Maj. Christopher Tipton, the battalion's senior enlisted leader, who arrived to the battalion about eight months ago, immediately pushed for a course to reinvigorate leadership qualities.
"The sergeant major has a great picture to help the NCO Corps come back to the old days," Paiz said, "where the NCO had the authority; he had the discipline and professionalism."
"We need that, and I think we're getting that back, so I'm very proud of that."
As Gregory shows his small group of less than 20 specialists and sergeants how to inspect Soldiers in formation, it's clear that in spite of his own difficult path as a young leader he's bound and determined to make an impression on the leaders of the future.
"I know that those are the future leaders of tomorrow," he said. "So one day, when it's my time to hang this uniform up, I'll be able to look at one of them and say, 'you know what? I had that Soldier when that Soldier was going through the junior leadership course.'"
"'I affected that Soldier, and now that Soldier is somebody's first sergeant. Now that Soldier is somebody's command sergeant major.'"