By Mrs. Michelle Kennedy (Drum)March 6, 2013
FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- As Soldiers rise through the ranks, much of their journey requires them to grow as leaders, improve military skills and attend professional development courses.
Roughly 70 Soldiers going through the 10th Mountain Division's Warrior Leader Course class 05-13 are the first to graduate from the Army's updated junior leader development curriculum.
Jan. 31 marked the beginning of the updated 22-day course. The course, which was previously 17 days long, now includes land navigation, new requirements and instruction, and shorter class days.
Because of the high operations tempo during the last few years, WLC was shortened and some requirements were removed from the curriculum, according to Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey L. Dunkelberger, NCO Academy commandant.
"Classes will be released at 5 p.m. from now on (unless someone needs additional training)," he said, adding that the course is held Monday through Friday. "(The Army) shortened the days because there were studies done and they found that (Soldiers) were burnt out by the end of the day, so they reduced the number of hours and lengthened the course by five days.
"It benefits the Soldiers and the cadre," Dunkelberger continued. "It's going to keep our cadre fresh because they won't spend as much time instructing throughout the day (and) they'll get more quality time with their Families, as will the Soldiers going through the course."
Shorter days and having time during the weekend also allows students more time for self-development in their education and physical fitness, according to 1st Sgt. Steven D. Anderson.
NCO Academy cadre and leaders were implementing some of the new requirements ahead of the official launch of the updated curriculum.
The division's NCO Academy began requiring students to pass the Army Physical Fitness Test and meet height and weight requirements in November, according to Anderson. The APFT and body fat test are requirements for graduation.
Implementing the new requirements early allowed cadre to prepare and be ready for the official implementation date, Dunkelberger explained.
"We (got) the training sites ready and validated, and it gave us time to get more cadre certified," he said. "WLC is the first chance (junior enlisted leaders) get to start their professional development to become a noncommissioned officer."
During the preparatory phase, cadre also enhanced the course's situational training exercise to add realism.
"We enhanced it because over the last 10 years, it's kind of dwindled down what was being taught," Dunkelberger said. "That's the (best opportunity) we have to grade students on their leadership abilities and the vehicle we use to do that is battle drills."
While the course mostly receives specialists who aren't eligible for promotion, some privates first class are allowed to attend the course. However, it is now mandatory for Soldiers to complete WLC to be promoted to sergeant, Dunkelberger noted.
One unique thing about WLC is it is not specific to one military occupational specialty, Anderson said.
Dunkelberger agreed, adding that the cadre does a great job training all of the Soldiers who attend the course.
"We don't have all (infantry Soldiers) doing these battle drills," he said. "We have every MOS in the Army coming together, forming teams and learning and executing battle drills under the guidance of our (small group leaders)."
In addition to training all MOSs, Reservists, National Guardsmen and Soldiers from other nearby installations, like the U.S. Military Academy attend the division's WLC.
"I think it's safe to say we're the premier Warrior Leader Course in the Northeast," Dunkelberger said.
"The new curriculum seemed to work out very well … and the cadre worked hard planning, certifying and validating the additions to the course. They deserve all of the credit for the first cycle being a remarkable success!"
Dunkelberger added that he has received feedback from cadre, students and other NCOs who are happy with the changes and additions to the course.
Cpl. Edgard Estrella, 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, was named the distinguished honor graduate. Throughout the 22-day course, he said the most challenging part of WLC was learning how to speak in public.
"What I found most challenging was standing in front of the class giving presentations and oral briefings and trying not to say 'uh' and 'um' all the time," he said.
Estrella said he thought the mandatory APFT and adding land navigation were important in the curriculum.
"I think they were good additions," he said. "Everyone here is trying to be a leader, so they should be able to complete and pass a PT test. They should also be able to conduct land navigation; it's one of those fundamental (skills). You can't always rely on a GPS."
For Soldiers preparing to attend WLC, a list of prerequisites can be found online.
It is important for students complete all of the prerequisites to attend WLC before arriving on "zero day," Anderson explained. Prospective students can access checklists, requirements and other important information under the NCO Academy's link on the Fort Drum website: www.drum.army.mil. Soldiers also can view photos from different classes and receive information on the WLC's Facebook page at www.facebook.com/fortdrumncoa.
"One of the biggest things is (students) come physically fit, prepared to learn and motivated," he said.
Beginning in April, Structured Self-Development 1 will be mandatory for Soldiers before they even come to the course, Anderson explained.
"Structured self-development is a series of modules and read ahead (materials) like preliminary leadership and land navigation," Anderson said. "Completion of the modules sets them up for the course curriculum, (and it will) show big Army that that Soldier should have no problem passing the academic portion."
If they have not completed the required modules, Soldiers will be unable to enroll in WLC through the Army Training Requirements and Resources System, known as ATRRS, Anderson added.