Innovation drives NCO education 



Command Sgt. Maj. Jimmie W. Spencer, USA, Ret.
Director, Noncommissioned Officer and Soldier Programs

The immediate future for noncommissioned education holds "innovation in what we do and how we deliver it," the leader of the Strategic Initiatives Group at the Sergeants Major Academy said in an interview with AUSA NEWS.

Sylvester Smith said the driving idea from the Army Training and Doctrine Command is learn better faster with upgraded technology in the classroom, changing the curriculum in the sergeants major course to achieve higher outcomes.

"We need to make education more user friendly," he added. "How can we do that?" In answering his own question, Smith suggested looking at Apple’s iPhone for ideas.

"The idea is to take the training to their environment: PS3, cell phones. When we do that, they are more likely to do it."

Adding, "We have a lot of online training. Maybe an Avatar on your home computer" could help a soldier learn more efficiently and effectively.

Wilbert "Holi" Holifield, who works for Smith, added that also includes getting the structured self-development program for the entire education system on the street and fully implemented.

He said, "The other thing that is going to affect the sergeants major course specifically is our concept [awaiting final approval] plan to grow the academy to get us to this academic institution" that it is striving to become.

Both said it is a move away from platform training to an adult education model where there would be two instructors per room to stimulate discussion among the students.

 Soldiers provide security
Master Sgt. Philip Barker, Indiana National Guard, and
his soldiers provide security during a civil assistance mission along the Khost-Gardez Pass in eastern Afghanistan in March. ‘You’ve got noncommissioned officers operating independently and have to make decisions on the spot. We’ve got to believe that a better educated noncommissioned officer would do a better job,’ according to Wilbert ‘Holi’ Holifield, who’s part of the strategic initiatives group at the Sergeants Major Academy.

"People often confuse education with college. Education includes all those learning experiences in an environment whether it is training, teaching, learning," Smith said.

"We are not educating NCOs to be officers. We are giving them a better education so they can operate somewhat independently out there on the battlefield and make the best decisions," Holifield said.

In contrast to Vietnam, "this is a small unit war. A lot of times out there those executing [the mission] are noncommissioned officers, dealing with mayors, … building villages. You’ve got noncommissioned officers operating independently and have to make decisions on the spot. We’ve got to believe that a better educated noncommissioned officer would do a better job."

Smith added, NCOs now and in the future "will still know what their roles are to be effective and efficient in what they do in supporting the officer."

The role of the sergeant major began to change in the mid to late 1990s, particularly in units deployed to the Balkans.

Noncommissioned officers came onto battle staffs, and at the same time, Smith said that in his experience as a sergeant major, "I was one of those who refused to hang around outside [the command post]. The sergeant’s major’s role is a lot more important than checking camouflage, checking troops. We have training, we have education, we need to be part of operations. I took over the job of running the operation."

He added what he learned at the academy 17 years ago did prepare him for his next job in operations.

Thirty years ago when Holifield came through as a master sergeant, he said his expectations were "they were going to teach me how to be a sergeant major.When I went through the classes, I found that a lot of the stuff they were teaching me I already knew … and was outdated in comparison to what was happening out there in the field."

When he graduated, he told academy officials his concerns, and they invited him to stay and work as a developer using the latest techniques and manuals. "We fought that battle for a lot of years" to keep current.

Holifield said, "We can take an event that happened yesterday and insert it into the course today."

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