The Advanced Leader Course-Common Core, taught via distance learning from the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy at Fort Bliss, Texas, is in the process of updating its course material to reflect the changing atmosphere on the ground. ALC-Common Core focuses on tasks all staff sergeants need to know, regardless of military occupational specialty.

Sgt. Maj. Scott Denson, director of ALC-Common Core distance learning at USASMA, said the new course focuses more intensely on conducting counterinsurgency techniques, monitoring electronic warfare, counseling subordinates and supporting Soldiers' families.

"We looked at the course, and it is a little outdated based on the lessons learned during the Global War on Terrorism," Denson said. "We're looking at what Soldiers need to be doing when they're in that midgrade-NCO level. In the new course, we tried to incorporate tasks that are more relevant to today's Army."

Though some of the content will change, the purpose, length and facilitation of the course will remain the same: The course will still be taught through distance learning; Soldiers will still have 90 days to complete it; and it will still be broken down into five modules, Denson said.

"The length of the course won't change," Denson said. "Big Army tells us this is a 90-day facilitated course and that it's 80.4 hours [of online instruction]. The only things that change are some of the tasks. We look at what's needed, but we also bring NCOs to a critical-task site selection board every three years. These NCOs come [to USASMA to] sit down, examine the tasks and select the tasks they think are the most critical to the Soldier."

After the last critical task site selection board held September 2010 at USASMA, the group determined some things needed to be taught in ALC to make sure the sergeants and staff sergeants who graduate from the course are equipped with the information they'll need to lead troops at the mid-grade level, Denson said.

"The main focus of our course now is on leadership skills, NCO duties, and on responsibilities and authority, and how to conduct performance-oriented training -- that is the nucleus of this course," Denson said. "The tasks that we have outlined in this course feed into one of those areas."

The course remains important and should not be taken lightly, Denson said. Now that the Army is in a slower operational tempo, sergeants will have a harder time being promoted to staff sergeant if they fail to take the course because there will be no more waivers for those who fail to pass the course.

The course had an 82 percent graduation rate for fiscal year 2011. Soldiers fail to graduate the course for a variety of reasons, including not communicating effectively with the facilitator of the course, not staying within the timelines and not understanding that the course is taught to doctrine.

Some sergeants and staff sergeants, though, have failed the course through no fault of their own, Denson said. Soldiers are enrolled in the course by Human Resources Command at Fort Knox, Ky. HRC then sends an email to Soldiers' AKO accounts to let them know they are enrolled in the course.

If Soldiers fail to understand the importance of the enrollment or fail to check their AKO accounts, they can unwittingly jeopardize their careers, Denson said.

The leaders of ALC-Common Core are working with HRC to identify a solution in the
notification process for these Soldiers, he added.

Graduates of the course receive a DA Form 87 (a certificate of training). The course is part of the NCO Education System and takes the place of Structured Self-Development level 2, Denson said.

"This is part of NCOES; it's not just a correspondence course," Denson said. "It's a course that people have to complete in order to move on in their career."