FORT HUACHUCA, Ariz. -- Many enlisted Soldiers will tell friends and family that pinning on their E5 sergeant stripes is one of the proudest moments of their Army career. It means the Soldier has attained a rank that can bring them a leadership position. At that moment, they leave the ranks of junior enlisted as they progress up through the military rank structure and attain a new maturity level in their chosen branch of service.

However, learning to be an enlisted Army leader does not end there.

Any U.S. Army sergeant who wishes to progress as a noncommissioned officer to staff sergeant and higher must attend and graduate intermediate-level NCO courses.

The U.S. Army Intelligence Center of Excellence NCO Academy has been providing NCO professional development courses to military intelligence Soldiers since 1987.

"Our mission is to further develop the leadership and technical skills of MI Corps NCOs at the staff sergeant and sergeant first class levels," said Command Sgt. Major William Hunter, commandant of the NCO Academy here. "We have nine courses for staff sergeants, the Advanced Leader Course, and each of the [military occupational specialties] within the military intelligence field has a separate course that those NCOs will attend. Primarily, they will focus on the technical skills associated with that particular job."

ALC students also receive additional leadership development training to pave the road for more advanced leadership positions.

The Senior Leader Course here is one course for all MI NCOs at the sergeant first class level.
"[SLC] trains them to continue their duties as a platoon sergeants and ultimately to assume duties as first sergeants at company level," Hunter continued. "We focus on MI Corps tasks and developing leadership skills as appropriate, so they can be successful as first sergeants."

As many as 96 NCOs attend the six-and-a-half-week SLC per session, while ALC sees anywhere between 175 and 200 students at any given time. Because ALC is MOS-specific, class lengths also vary from four to eight weeks.

While all their training takes place during duty hours, students spend their off-duty time studying and participating in various charitable or humanitarian projects.

"While they are here, we think it is important to instill in leaders that it is the right thing to do -- to leave the academy, the community or Fort Huachuca better than it was when they came here," Hunter said. "We challenge each class to do a community effort. Sometimes it is something to make their classrooms or the academy look more professional or better, and sometimes it is to help people in the community."

He said it can mean a clean-up effort around post or in the community or something entirely different, but he leaves it to the students to decide what their project will be. The student leader of each section or platoon will coordinate the effort, make sure all the necessary resources are available and then ensure the task is executed safely, professionally and correctly.
"We recognize those efforts during each of their graduations and challenge them to take that same spirit back to their units," he added.

The students are not the only ones who benefit from professional development at the NCO Academy. The cadre, personally screened and interviewed for their positions by the commandant, glean knowledge and ideas from each other and their students, and build lasting professional relationships in the process.

"I don't think it's about us shaping the next wave [of senior NCOs]; it's really about all of us shaping each other," said SLC Chief Instructor Sgt. 1st Class Peter Marchiony. "One of the great things about being at the academy is this may be the only opportunity you have to actually sit in a classroom with 16 or more senior NCOs -- folks that are your peers -- where you can actually exchange stuff from your kit bag. It's not just the students that get that, but all the cadre as well."

Sgt. 1st Class Steward Hogans, ALC chief instructor, said he was a bit apprehensive about working at the academy because he didn't know what to expect. His perspective changed along the way.

Realizing he has provided these NCOs with nuggets of information or resources they can draw from in their future assignments or home units makes him feel good about his role as an instructor.

"One of the biggest rewards that I get is the professionalism that I see from my peers and the Soldiers that are coming through, and their dedication to the mission, because they all come here wanting to become better NCO[s]," Hogans said.

"Being able to provide something they can take back to their Soldiers where they can train, mentor, guide [them] -- ultimately, I take pride in the fact that I am training the guy that's going to take my place. I'm training him so he can train other Soldiers to become the best leaders they can possibly be."