Growing senior NCOs 



Three Army master sergeants enrolled in the sergeants’ major course said they came to Fort Bliss, Texas, expecting "a lot of writing and a lot of studying."

Master Sgt. Christopher Peppard, 5th Special Forces Group, added, "And there’s a lot of presentations."

Master Sgt. Donald Gilbert, a career recruiter coming off assignment in Southern California, added "I was expecting tactical teaching, but there’s been a lot more strategic."

"You’re also doing a lot of research" for the presentations and papers, Master Sgt. Leonard Pitts, coming from Fort Sill, Okla., said.

He added that he was expecting to have a lot more instruction in what sergeants major actually do. "When I was in the first sergeants’ course, they taught me what first sergeants do – all the forms, the ARs."

While the course did give him strategic insights, Pitts said, it "didn’t give him instruction in troop leading positions. It taught us how to be sergeants major in the ‘S’ shops [staff positions]." Nevertheless, "I learned a whole damned lot."

 Master sergeants
Master Sgts. Leonard Pitts, Donald Gilbert and Christopher Peppard shared their experiences going through the courses at the Sergeants Major Academy at Fort Bliss.

Peppard said he would like to see the lessons drawn from Combined Arms Center Intermediate Level Education course for officers "more tweaked toward NCOs."

"I’ve gotten more out of this course than I thought I would. It depends upon the field you’re in." Because it is more strategic than tactical, Gilbert said, "It’s good to know it, but can you apply it or will you ever be able to apply it? It’s broader than I thought it would be."

Peppard said the sergeants major course "is completely different" from his experiences in special forces. The basic noncommissioned officer course was part of the qualifying course for special forces. The other courses were "more of it’s your job and that’s different" from the sergeants major course.

Recruiting is different, Gilbert said, "My field will always have a follow-on course. DA has a first sergeant course. USAREC has a first sergeant course. Learn what the Army is doing and learn what you need to do for your MOS, your job."

The international students bring something extra to the course. "They get to learn how our Army operates, and we learn from them about how they operate," Peppard said. "I think that’s pretty important for today’s environment."

"I enjoyed the country brief just to learn about their country and culture and armies," Gilbert said.

"When you sit down and talk to one of the guys, you can learn a whole lot about their culture customs," Pitts said, citing how the international students approach a gesture shaking hands in many different ways

Peppard brought his family from Fort Campbell, and for them it was hard: the housing market was tough, losing special pays and a spouse’s income.

Gilbert’s family is in Southern California as his son completes high school. Permanent change of station moves "can be tough financially especially when the spouse gives up her job. Many states don’t pay unemployment" for that kind of move.

All will take away from the academy networking with other NCOs. "That’s a real benefit," Gilbert said.

Peppard said he will also take away from the academy "strategic thinking and how it applies to the unit."

"It will help us working with the officers," Pitts said about the lasting value of the course.

All said their time at the academy gave them the opportunity to either complete their bachelor’s degree or make good progress toward graduation.